From the Relief Society Magazine, 1960 –
Grandma’s Surprise Packages
By Frances C. Yost
Grandma Benson let her tired hands rest in her lap. It was Christmas Eve and she was ready for it. Why, she had a lovely surprise package for every one of the twenty-five members in her family. This should be a time for real celebrating, the eve of Christmas, but her heart wasn’t in it.
There was a hurt in her heart she just couldn’t shake off, and it wasn’t something she could talk over, or confide in anyone. She just had to go on bravely smiling and loving all the family as she always had. Some hurts were best that way, left alone.
Grandma Benson knew the very day the hurt in her heart had started. She was just as happy as a grandmother could be, with her children and grandchildren around her, and thinking they all loved her until … Well, it happened right after the Thanksgiving family get-together. Why, it was the morning after, in fact. It all happened right in the dear old room she loved.
It was a big room, with plenty of light. It was a combination living room and bedroom, with an adjoining private bath. She had all the things she loved here in the room, her books and keepsakes, and she was comfortable. If she wanted to have privacy, she could have it, and if she wanted to join the family, she was always welcome. If she wanted her meals alone, one of the children would gladly bring a tray to her room. True, the furniture was getting shabby, and the rug was worn, and the curtains were mended. But it was home, and she was perfectly happy, until that morning when her son James and his wife Laura had come to her room. Grandma Benson could remember it so well, every word that had been said …
“May we come in a while and visit, Mother?”
“Why, certainly, James, you know you’re always welcome in my part of the house.” Grandma Benson had chuckled gaily then. Now, she realized she was presumptive to have said, “my part of the house.” None of the house was really hers; it was James’s and Laura’s home, not hers at all. Her old home had been sold to pay expenses when Grandpa had died. And, anyway, the family had said she mustn’t live alone. At that time they had appeared to mean it.
“Did you sleep well, Mother Benson?”
“Why, yes, Laura, thanks to you, keeping clean, lovely, soft sheets on my bed, I sleep like a child. I love my dear old bed.”
“Mother, that’s what Laura and I wanted to talk to you about. Would you mind so much living with Chris and Sarah for a while?”
James hadn’t said for how long. He hadn’t said she was too much work for Laura, or that she needed a rest. Just that. Would you mind living with Chris and Sarah a while?
It sort of took her breath, really, but she quickly moistened her lips and smiled faintly and said, “Why, James, it would be fine to stay a spell with Chris and Sarah.”
She guessed she should have been moving from one child’s home to another, before someone suggested it, not bother any one family too long. But she had felt so at home here with James and Laura, and they had acted as if it was all right to stay permanently.
“Well, then, if you’ll pack a suitcase, I’ll take you over to Sarah’s place first thing after breakfast.”
“Mother Benson, why don’t you pack the little trunk. You know, take all the things you’ll need, and your Christmas sewing and crocheting, and …”
“Yes, Laura, I’ll get my things right now.” She turned quickly. She mustn’t ever let anyone know. She must finish life bravely, serenely, no matter what happened. No matter if she were passed around among the children the rest of her days …
Grandma Benson went over the last month while living here at Chris’ and Sarah’s. They had treated her nice enough. They really had. The children had been happy to have her read to them occasionally, and she had had time to make all of her Christmas gifts. She had made cute little aprons for the smaller girls. Some were ruffled pinafores, and some were appliqued with flowers or birds. The older granddaughters would receive a length of fine lace for pillowcases. They were all filling hope chests. The boys in the family would get colorful crocheted bookmarks. Boys needed to be encouraged to sit down and read, Grandma thought. The men would each receive a knitted tie, and the ladies crocheted bedroom slippers to match their favorite robe. Besides the present, Grandma had written a little personal verse for each person. It had all taken lots of time and thought. In fact, it had been good for her. When one was doing things creative, one didn’t have so much time to remember hurts.
Chris and Sarah and their children had been ever so nice. She didn’t have any complaints, except that Chris and Sarah were gone a great deal evenings. And Sarah usually made some excuse, almost every afternoon, to go to the library, or shopping.
Then, too, they were rather crowded. She shared a room with Janice, who was working downtown, and was dating. She knew her being there was inconvenient for Janice. She never turned on the light to undress, and just felt around for her nighty and slippers in the dark.
James and Laura had come to see her quite often, but not once had they said anything like, “do you want to come home, Mother?” She guessed she had worn out her welcome at James’s and Laura’s completely.
Now, it was the day before Christmas, and they were all to spend Christmas Eve at James’s and Laura’s. They would have the usual program, mostly the little tots singing and reciting. Then the presents would be opened, and light refreshments served, before each family went to its own home to await Santa’s visit.
Grandma Benson had assumed the family usually came to James’s and Laura’s because she had made her home there. Now, she realized, it was because their house was much larger. It would be different this year. Instead of her being there to greet the others when they arrived, being one of the hostesses, she now was just a guest in James’s and Laura’s home.
Grandma Benson had a sudden impulse to pull out her lace-edged handkerchief and fill it with the tears she had held back ever so long. But she mustn’t give way to grief. Not at Christmas time. Not ever! Life had been hard many times, and she wasn’t going to let down when she was pushing seventy-seven. What had Grandpa Benson always said? “Keep a stiff upper lip, Susan, things have a way of working out!”
“Are you ready to go, Grandma?” Sarah asked. Sarah always said, Grandma. And she was her own daughter. It made her feel so old. Of course, she knew Sarah did it to set an example for her children.
“Why, yes, Sarah, I’m ready, all but my coat and scarf.”
“Roger, go get Grandma’s coat in the hall closet. Don’t drop the scarf tucked in the sleeve.” Sarah turned to the others. “The rest of you get in the car.”
Then all at once they were driving up to James’s and Laura’s. The dear old home looked so lovely, all the evergreens starlit with snowflakes. James had strung lights on the biggest pine tree, making a real outdoor Christmas tree!
The drapes were drawn, and the lighted tree in the living room was even more beautiful than when she had been there to help decorate, or sit back and suggest where to hang the ornaments. And the little stockings she had made for all last year, were hanging on the mantle. They had remembered to use them, even though she hadn’t been there to suggest it.
The door was swinging open now, and both James and Laura were calling: “Merry Christmas, all of you!”
“Welcome home, Mother.” James and Laura said together, then they looked at each other and laughed softly.
“Mother, you might as well take your scarf and coat right up.”
James took her arm, and Laura took her other arm, and they were taking her up the stairs. Perhaps they didn’t want her in the living room, and yet they had said, “Welcome home, Mother.” What were all the others doing following at their heels?
James swung the door to her old room open, and a silence fell on all he family, even those still at the foot of the stairway. Grandma Benson caught her breath and just looked. Why, a miracle had happened!
Instead of the drab old flowered wallpaper, there was a lovely soft pink on the walls. The old gray woodwork was all pink now. The dear old bed and dresser and vanity were all refinished in limed oak. The overstuffed chair was reupholstered in a lovely blue. The floor was covered with wall to wall carpeting in a soft blue shade. At the windows hung flowered cretonne draw drapes. They had a little pink and blue flowers, carrying out the color scheme of the room.
“Sarah made the drapes, Mother Benson,” Laura said. “That’s why she left you so much. She was sewing every minute over here. And here are the lovely hooked rugs you gave me. I cherish them as much as ever, but they just seemed to belong in this room.”
“Yes, they do add a cozy touch,” Grandma Benson murmured.
It was so like Laura, giving someone else what she herself cherished. Why had she doubted her unselfishness for a time? Grandma Benson had a big lump in her throat, but she must speak up. The family would think her ungrateful. What was James saying?
“All the family helped, mother. They helped lovingly, with their hands and with their purses, and we’ve all enjoyed doing it. You see, we didn’t wrap your presents as surprises by the tree this year, we hid them behind your own door.”
“Your own door.” The words were sweet to Grandma Benson. She wanted to cry, but they were tears of joy she was holding back now. Her lip quivered, but she managed to control herself and gave her biggest smile.
“You children surely did surprise me all right. And you have made me very, very happy. You’re all dears, and I love you every one. Now let’s go downstairs and start our program. I want to hear the little folks’ pieces, and …” Grandma Benson laughed gaily, “I have a few surprise packages to pass out myself.”