By Ashlyn Kennedy
“No presents?” The aroma of gingerbread men fill my nose as I stare at my mom. She continues to ice them, humming Santa Baby. I sigh angrily because she doesn’t really seem to care about what I think. “No offense Mom but what’s the point of Christmas with no presents?” She just looks at me and shakes her head.
“Listen Cath I know you’re probably upset, but we need to save money. And come on, it'll be fun spending Christmas with grandma during winter break.”
I freeze my hand right as I’m about to grab a gingerbread man. “Seriously Mom? You couldn’t tell me any sooner?” I cross my arms and sigh.
I know she's my grandma but she’s a total grump. All she does is complain about everything and everyone while giving people her evil eye. Her evil eye is the inspiration for most of my nightmares. It starts off with a stern look and then her right eye, and only her right eye wobbles. The wobbles start small but then get bigger and vicious as they continue. I shudder at the thought of them.
I sigh again with content as I bite into the gingerbread, then snap my eyes open. “Wait, that means I won’t be able to spend time with Jess and Tia!” She gives me one of her “ I’m disappointed looks.”
“Catherine I know they’re your friends but family is more important when it comes to the holidays.”If I were a cartoon I would have fire coming out of my nose.
So I decided to scoff at her. “Oh yeah? Well see if I even enjoy myself you tyrant!” Feeling angry and kind of satisfied for using a big word I dash up the stairs and flop on my bed to pout. I expect her to come up here and comfort me like she always does when I get mad, but hear nothing. Fine if she wants to be like that so be it. I hear her sigh and start to walk up the stairs. I feel myself smile, I knew she would come up here.
I hear a knock on my door. “What do you want?” I snap. She doesn’t yell at me for my tone, just says, “Catherine you need to start packing. We leave for the road in the morning and it’s a long ride. Oh! And also it’s cold there so pack warm clothes.”
I grunt in response, throwing the first things my hands touch in my closet, because it’s not like I’m going to leave the guest room.
After I’m done packing (my mom threw in a coat and some boots) I dive onto my bed sad I’m not going to go sledding or have a Christmas sleepover with my friends. I pull the blanket tighter around me and squeeze my eyes shut, willing myself not to cry. I blink a couple times realizing how tired I am. I barely yawn before I close my eyes sleepily and drift off to sleep.
I rub my eyes tiredly as I step out of the car. As soon as I’m out of the car though cold air nips at my face, waking me up. I cross my arms, scowling. “Come on Cathy, feel the Christmas spirit!” I watch as my Dad walks around the car whistling a Christamas song. I scowl even harder, “Christmas is still five days away dad.”
Before he can respond though, my grandma steps out on the porch. “Steven! Quit chit chatting and get inside! Poor Cathy looks like a tomato!” I would be offended and say something, but she does her evil on my dad and I think twice. Inside I stand in the living room warming up when my mom and dad return from their room.
“Cathy, you have to share a room with grandma because the power is out in the guest room.” I open my mouth to protest, but grandma turns to me, raising her eyebrows. “Unless of course you want to sleep in the basement with the rats?” I look at her horrified. “No, no I’m good.” I shake my head viciously not wanting to even see a rat.
She looks at me and makes a “hmph” sound and walks away. My mom and dad say they need to go to town because we need some food. Great, that leaves me alone with my grandma then. I sigh and walk to the kitchen table. Sitting there is a chess board and my grandma. She gestures for me to sit down and I freak out.
“Oh no I’m good I think I’ll go for a walk…” I look at the door and back at grandma and she gives her evil wobble eye and I freeze. “Okay I’ll play with you.” I plop down in the chair across from her faster than a rock sinks in water.
As we continue to play the game I capture her queen and a pawn and she raises one eyebrow. “I see you want to play dirty little girl.” Her voice gives me chills as she points a very long skinny finger at me. “You see those trees out there?” I look to where her finger is pointed.
I look at the chessboard as her pawn makes it to the end becoming a rook. Still distracted by her question I move one of my pawns forward. She looks back out at them.
“I don’t trust them, you know why?” I shake my head slightly smiling. “Because they’re looking a little shady.”
Right as she says this she uses her rook to capture my king – winning. I don’t know if I should be mad I lost or laugh at her terrible dad joke. I end up laughing so hard I double over.
“That was the worst-dad joke ever.” I sputter while still laughing. “Oh I have many,many more.” Before I can ask her to tell me another one my parents come in through the back door and her face transforms from being happy, to her evil face.
“Why were you gone so long?” My mom just looks at her, the evil eye not affecting her.
“There was a holdup in the checkout line Mom.” Grandma lifts her nose in the air still doing the wobble eye. “I would say that too if I was out canoodling with my husband.”
Mom's face turns bright red. She opens her mouth and makes up some excuse that it’s stuffy inside and she’s going outside. Dad just looks at us and follows Mom. As soon as they’re out of earshot we start cracking up to where we cry. She wipes her eyes and looks at me. I grow quiet, not sure of what happens next.
She just snaps her fingers though. “Now you and I are going to make supper.” She grins at me as she gets the pots out.
Dinner was delicious. It was so delicious that I ate more than my fair share, and now I have a stomach ache. This is only one of the problems keeping me from sleeping. The other one is Grandma snoring. It gets so loud I groan. She grunts and sits up squinting at me. “You should know better than to wake me up while sleeping.”
I duck as she throws her pillow at me. “Well you're the one that’s snoring loud enough to wake the dead.”
She chuckles and sighs. She swings her legs over the edge of her bed to look at me. She suddenly looks really serious, so I sit up too. “Catie I…” she trails off looking at the ceiling. I stare at her anxiously. “You what?” I search her face for some sign and notice her crying.
“Hey, don’t cry, it’s alright.” I rush over to her bed and hug her without letting go.
“Catie bug I only have a couple more days to live, and … there’s this poem I want you to read at the town gathering. My sister read it and I want you to do it too.”
I stare at her, unable to really understand her. “You’re not gonna die, we just became friends and really got to know each other…and I need you for all the other Christmases to come.” I’m crying now with snot running down my face. She turns to me and holds my face.
“Child everyone’s time on this earth comes to an end. Now I need you to be strong when I'm gone. Especially if I’m not able to see you read the poem.”
I shake my head, the tears streaming down my face. “No, I’m not going to read the poem on Christmas unless you’re there.” She just shakes her head.
“Promise me.” She whispers. Right then I finally understand what my mom means when she says family is more important than friends on holidays. I regret every holiday I chose to spend with Tia instead of grandma because she’s right, our time together is limited.
So I look at my grandma's face and promise her that no matter what I’ll read the poem.
The next two days go by with me watching grandma closely, and practicing the poem. It’s the morning before Christmas and mom made pancakes with grandma's homemade syrup. I’m helping grandma with the dishes because I don’t want her to hurt herself. She waves me off to go watch tv. I pause and look at the television hesitantly.
“Oh, just go I’ll be fine, go watch some tv or go participate in your parents pillow fight.”
I smile. “Okay but if you need help, tell me.”
She just shakes her head and starts singing Jingle Bell Rock.
I sit on the couch and watch I Love Lucy. I hear a huge bang in the kitchen and snap my head up. “Grandma?” My heartbeat has picked up and I rush to the kitchen. There she is sprawled across the floor.
“Oh,no,no,no,no,no. Grandma wake up, come one wake up.” I’m sobbing and holding her, “Mom! Dad! It's grandma!” Mom runs in the kitchen and covers her mouth. “Steven, get the car started!” Me and mom are both crying trying to get her to wake up.
When we get to the car there’s no room for me so I stay back. I try to watch tv but I’m too nervous and scared. I walk back and forth between the kitchen and living room listening to Christmas music. When that doesn’t work, I go to the shed and get a snow shovel to clear the driveway. That way when grandma comes home she doesn’t have to tramp through the snow.
That is if she comes. Just thinking this makes me start to sob again and I fall to my knees in the driveway, collapsing. I’m too weak to shovel, so I go inside and strip off my wet, cold clothes.
As I take the cold clothes off I think about how she seemed perfectly fine. She didn’t seem like she was in pain at all. How did I not notice something was wrong?
As I put on pajamas I see headlights and sprint down the stairs. I meet my mom as she walks in and slowly drops her purse into a chair and sinks into the sofa. She looks at the fireplace, her mind somewhere else. “She’s gone.” She whispers it and I want to pretend I didn’t hear her, but I know from the look on her face it is true.
For the second time that day I collapsed and broke down. This time though I’m sobbing so hard I can’t breathe. It feels like someone’s taking the air from my lungs, like they took my Grandma's life. I walk over to Mom and she holds me and strokes my hair. We sit like this for a while until she breaks the silence.“I haven’t seen her that happy in such a long time,” she says quietly
I slowly stop crying. “What do you mean?” I sniffle.
She laughs softly, “When she was with you she lit up like a Christmas light, bright and clear.” I think about what she said for a couple minutes and jump up and sprint to my room. I dig through the desk drawers, papers flying, and find the poem and make some adjustments to it.
When I’m finished I look out the window when something catches my eye. I see one by one tiny little glowing lights appear in the front yard. As I race down the stairs I stop in front of the door. There in our yard is a group of carolers singing Holy Night. I smile because it was always grandma's favorite song. I sniffle and start to cry again. I walk onto the porch with my mom and we hug each other and sway to the music. Before they go they pay their respects and leave us alone waiting for dad. When I try to sleep the only thing that comes to mind is: I miss grandma snoring.
The next day I lay in grandma's bed trying to gather as much courage as possible. I know I was upset when mom said no Christmas presents, but I don’t mind anymore. When it’s time to go, last minute I race up the stairs and get grandma's necklace. As I walk down the stairs mom looks at me and starts crying. “You look so much like her.”
When we get there we sit down and listen to people singing solos, read quotes, make speeches, and perform weird acts. Finally though it’s my turn to go up there. My mom gives my hand a squeeze and dad smiles at me encouragingly. When I make it to the stand I take a deep breath. I don’t feel nervous though as I look out at the town.“The most important lesson I think I’ve learned this Christmas is…” I try to stop it but I start to cry.
“It's okay sweetie, let it out.” Someone calls out from the crowd. I nod and start again. “The most important lesson I’ve learned this Christmas is love and family. It doesn’t matter if you get ten presents or zero,” I pause to smile at my parents. “What matters is who you spend it with. Unfortunately I didn’t realize this soon enough so I lost precious time with my grandma.”
I inhale but this time don’t try and stop the tears. “I promised my grandma I would read this poem to you all tonight that her sister wrote and I added on to. It’s called A Christmas Light.”
You shine so bright
Like a star in the night
You touch my heart
With your every thought
You made me love Christmas
And made me see what the point of it is
Yes you shine so bright
Just like a star in the night
Yes, you are My Christmas light
Tears stream down my face as the crowd erupts. I don’t remember much after that, just people congratulating me and telling me my grandma would be proud. I do remember the car ride home and making it to grandma's bed though. As I sit there in silence something deep within tells me everything is going to be alright. I look out the window and look at the trees my grandma pointed out that she “didn’t trust.” I laugh a little just at the thought of it.
As I continue to stare out the window I can hear my grandma's voice telling me to be strong, be fierce and be loving and kind. And when I look back out at the night sky I see the first star to appear, and I swear the star winks at me.