Socks and Bodywash — How My Great-Grandma Changed My View of Christmas.


         We are overexposed to the big, the bad, the outofthisworld incredible when it comes to gifts. From MySuperSweet16 to the Kardashians to the HousewivesofMars, everything being thrust in our faces screams, my46inchTVisnotbigenoughI don’t need most of the gifts I will receive this year for Christmas, but every few years there is someone who gives a gift that is truly useful, one that I really need–like a jumbo pack of toilet paper or a gift card to the grocery store. Typically the most humble, needed gifts are synonymous with bo-ring. Let’s be real, humble gifts are not the most exciting things to open–socks from grandma, anyone? 

One of the best lessons I have ever learned about Christmas came from a shopping date with my then 94 year old great-grandmother (who just turned 97, by the way. Isn’t she precious?!).

          Grandma Mac lives in an assisted living home. Up until the past few years, she has always been sharp and quick witted. My favorite example of her sweet sarcasm came from a few years ago when Grandma was either 93 or 94.
          Grandma’s daughter, my Mimi, does an incredible job of facing the challenges of caring for an aging mother with early stage Alzheimer’s. As the three of us were walking down the hallway headed toward Grandma’s room, her daughter (my Mimi) was a few steps ahead of me and Grandma. Mimi called out in a high-pitched Michigan accent “Mo-om, Getchur key out, we’re almost at your door.” Grandma, key already in hand, looked to me and said in an equally high-pitched but quieter Michigan accent, “Honestly, she thinks I don’t even know where I live.” She held the key in the air and waved it around for all the hallway to see, while having a good laugh pretending to not know where she was. (Grandma does have an early stage of Alzheimer’s, so sometimes she really doesn’t know where she lives. On this day, she did.) Mimi laughed and said something to the effect of, “That’s good, Mom.” Grandma was 94 and danced around her hallway with a great sense of humor and Mimi took it all in stride. 

          Due to Grandma’s Alzheimer’s, there are days where she makes no sense at all, and then there are days where her 90 year old wisdom shines through beautifully. Near Christmas of her 94th year, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Grandma during one of her bouts of wisdom.

          Since Grandma lives in an assisted living home, she rarely gets to go out on her own. A few years ago, my husband and I took her out for dinner. On the way home we stopped by Target for some Christmas present shopping. Grandma was so cute bundled up waiting for us at her front door. She wore light blue pants, cream oldie loafers, a cute jacket and a matching knitted scarf that my mom made her. Her little purse carried nothing but some cash and a tissue (lesson there, anyone?) and was looped around her arm. She sat in the front seat next to me as I drove us to dinner just down the road. After dinner we went to Target where she shared with me her shopping philosophy, which made too much sense for me to understand it at the time.
          She told me she didn’t have much money. She didn’t know what to get kids these days. She didn’t think any of us needed anything. She didn’t even remember how old all the kids were. She wanted to get the kids something useful. Every single useless item we passed without a glance. It was as if all the toys, electronics, frilly clothing, make-up–it was as if none of that existed. Grandma went straight to the socks and said, “Everyone can always use a good pair of socks. Socks wear out.” I laughed inside, thinking how fortunate I was to be experiencing firsthand such a stereotypical moment with my great grandmother. 

          Second stop: Soaps and Shampoos. We went to the body wash aisle next because, “We all need to wash ourselves.” Grandma was slightly concerned with how the older boys would respond to opening up body wash for Christmas from their great-grandmother, but I convinced her it was the way to go, if the other option was socks. We smelled various soaps, all musty and manly, and she was very thoughtful in picking out which boy would prefer which soap scent. Grandma was adamant about purchasing at least one good pack of socks, so we ended up with socks and body wash for the boys. When the presents were unwrapped come Christmastime, she seemed slightly embarrassed that she had given body wash and everyone else was giving elaborate, expensive clothing and electronics and tools. The boys thanked her enthusiastically, although others laughed quietly and said, “Oh, Grandma” in a sweet, patronizing tone. But, after all was unwrapped and sorted, guess which presents were actually used? Guess which presents were ultimately appreciated the most?

The socks and the body wash.

          Grandma Mac has taught me many things. Gifting socks and body wash for Christmas to two boys, one a teenager and one a college freshman, ended up being one of her greatest lessons. Grandma at age 94 didn’t even look at any of the propaganda littering the aisles of Target. She wasn’t allured by the pretty things and stuff and junk being forced in our faces. Instead, Grandma wanted to gift something practical, something useful. She was only slightly concerned with whether the receiver liked her present. She was more concerned with: Does he need it? 

If we are going to celebrate Jesus’ birth with gift giving, Grandma Mac’s thought process is probably the best approach I’ve ever heard to Christmas. 
  1. Who needs something? 
  2. How can I fill that need? 
After all, isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Filling our deepest needs?

          My husband and I watched The Polar Express the other night. If you are not familiar with the movie, the main character struggles to believe in Santa as does another character, a poor boy from the other side of the tracks. The poor boy doesn’t believe in Santa because he has never received a present for Christmas. The truth behind this little boy’s situation touched my heart–from his tattered nightgown to his too-big boots. He especially touched my heart in one scene on the train because of how perfectly his words attest to the truth of what Christmas should be about — helping those in need.

Christmas should be about helping others experience what we have been blessed to experience all year round — having our needs met.

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