Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

In a certain unspecified year when my daughter Karen was five (almost six) years old (and a Pisces through and through), I sent out a gorgeous Christmas card featuring deep blue watercolor art of The Madonna and Child. It was really exceptionally beautiful and poignant, and at this wrap-up of what I will refer to as “a significant year,” the holidays were especially moving for me.
Karen has always been well-recognized in this family as what our Dutch Nana called “an old soul” (meaning she’d been through several incarnations and each time came back into the world wise beyond her years and ready to grow even more from there).
Example: Nana and Grandpa Johnny took care of Karen for me most weekdays when she was four years old and I was in college. Their house was right near the campus, there was no one I would trust more to care for her, and I would come there every day for a free lunch, a visit with the Grands, and some time with Karen. Karen was crazy about her great-grandparents and enjoyed working in Grandpa’s garden with him or helping Nana with her legendary baking, so everyone was happy.
One rainy day when I returned for lunch, Nana took me aside and told me this teary-eyed story: When I’d driven off that morning in my old clunky car, my little honey girl had stood at their living room picture window and watched with a very solemn expression on her face… something she didn’t normally do. Grandpa asked her if something was wrong and she said, “I wish the rain would stop.” Assuming that she was anticipating a boring day spent inside, Grandpa assured her, “Well we can have fun inside, honey, and the garden needs the rain.” She turned to him and said (at FOUR mind you) “But the roads are all wet and Mommy’s tires are bald.”
HOW she had picked up on that I do not know, but this was just the beginning of our awareness that this kid was an empathetic little SPONGE and we had to be very careful what was discussed around her; she not only picked up on everything but very much took it to heart, even when it was a worry far beyond her tender years.
So back to the Christmas card.
We were SO BROKE that year, but boy did we luck out: I opened a checking account at a new bank and lo and behold won a gift certificate to go holiday shopping at a local drug store that had a great assortment of present-y-type items! YAY! It wasn’t a big amount, but enough that with a little careful shopping I could manage token gifts for those near and dear, some prize goodies for Karen, and a box of Christmas cards. (I had been feeling so badly about not sending out cards that year, and now I could; it was like a present to myself!) After much debate I laid eyes on a box that just struck me immediately, so the beautiful blue Madonna cards rode in the cart next to the new drawing pad and Karen-coveted giant box of sharp, still-individually-paper-wrapped new crayons that every kid craved at Christmas back then.
That night, Karen and I sat at the kitchen table in our little apartment (in what is now a chic part of downtown but definitely wasn’t back then) and savored wrapping the presents in the colorful comic sections of the paper that I’d had my Mom and Nana saving for me since Halloween. (Yes, we WERE ahead of our time in the recycling movement …) (Oh all right: we were just too broke to buy wrapping paper!) We were listening to Christmas music and having a wonderful time when we turned to the Christmas cards. Karen picked one up, scooted up on what was for her a very tall kitchen chair, and studied it intently. After setting it down and picking it up a few times between stuffing the cards in envelopes for me (her job), she asked, “Mommy, may I have this one?”
My immediate thought was “No, honey, we don’t really have enough as it is!” But when I saw the look on her little face I just couldn’t refuse. She took the card into the bedroom and put it on her little desk, prominently displayed. I thought no more about it.
On Christmas morning, before we headed over to Mom and Pop’s house, I gave Karen her presents. We sat in front of the roaring space heater (it was really cold that year!) and she opened each one so carefully, as if she needed to save the silly comics paper. Given her responses, no one would have guessed how meager the gifts really were: Everything warranted a lot of mugging …wide eyes or a wide open “surprised” mouth or jumping up and down … she has always been a gracious recipient no matter what’s put in front of her (still is), but when she got to the new box of crayons (which I had anticipated to be the highlight of her Christmas as she was a coloring fiend) she frowned and cried in dismay, “Oh no!”
“What?” I laughed. “What do you mean, ‘Oh no?’ I thought that was what you wanted!”
“I did…” she fumbled, then heaved a heavy sigh and in a resigned voice said “Here” as she handed me a large manila envelope.
Confused, I took the crayon-decorated envelope and opened it. It didn’t take even a second for me to recognize her child’s drawing of the blue Madonna Christmas card… in green. “Oh honey!” I enthused, “is this for ME?”
Nodding she said in a somewhat annoyed voice, “Yes, but I didn’t have any more blue!”
Ah. That explained the odd reaction to the new box of crayons: just in time to be too late. I gave her a huge hug and assured her I loved my present very much, noted that now we had it in two colors, etc., and made it a point to carefully put it back in the envelope and bring it along to show to everyone at my parents’ home that day.
Of course everyone did the appropriate oooohing and aaaahing, but I got a bit of a surprise when I got Nana and Grandpa aside and they each swore that neither of them had helped her with this project. What? So she really HAD done this by herself? I mean, she always spent a lot of time coloring while I was studying, and we brought her drawing paper along to Nana and Grandpa’s every day as well as to my Mom’s when she visited there. But Mom, Pop, and my brother and sister all swore that none of them had helped her either.
I was more than a little shocked.
So that in itself is an astonishingly cool memory for my daughter and me to share, but it gets even better (if you can believe that):
21 years later (sorry hon but there’s no way to fudge these things!) I was taking care of my daughter’s daughter, Nicole. My first granddaughter was very much her own little person, but with the same sweet nature as her Mom. An early September baby (Virgo? REALLY?!?), she had just turned six that Christmas when I showed her the old “blue Madonna” Christmas card and the rendition drawn all those years ago by her mom. By now the original blue card had discolored, curled up edges, and the green on the copy had faded, but the ink drawing was still crisp.
“I want to do one too!” she shouted.
And I thought, “Oh wow; HOW COOL!”
So of course I turned her loose to do her version of the blue Madonna, and that year I gave homemade Christmas cards with the original art and the mother-and-daughter (or in my case daughter and granddaughter) copies as the cover, and people just loved it even without knowing the whole story.
Next year saw the birth of my second granddaughter, Kylie (a little Sagittarius through and through, like me!) born just a week before Christmas. Just after Ky’s sixth birthday I brought out what I now thought of as “The Madonna Project” and showed it to Ky, told her that mommy and Sissy had done the drawings, and asked if she’d like to do one too. She was all enthused (as six-year-olds tend to be without even realizing the significance of such moments) and did her own individualistic rendition.
The three copies had such differences and such similarities …”just like my girls!” I thought … and of course that was that year’s Christmas card.
Pretty cool, huh? But as the late Billy Mays used to shout on those infomercials, “But wait: there’s more!”
Five years ago my eldest granddaughter, Nicole, had a son, David James (oh yes: definitely a Scorpio!), making me a great-grandmother. He is SUCH a delight and treasure that I immediately forgave their turning me into an old lady. He’s the first boy in our string of babies and very, very different. Except…
Sometimes David gets the same look on his face that I used to see on his grandma’s face when she was his age and worried about her Mommy driving on bald tires. Ever since he was a baby, even people outside the family have referred to him as a “Little Man” because… frankly … he just never seemed as “baby” as most babies usually do. He’s always had this serious, thoughtful bent that belies his young age.
What will his Madonna look like? Will he even want to do one? I can’t wait for next year to find out, and I hope I’m here long enough to see this Blue Madonna card turned into an entire book-history of family Christmases. I think I will title it, “The Madonna and My Children.”
Merry Christmas, everyone.


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