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Remembering Grandpa’s Tennessee Christmas

When my brother was born in Monterey, Tennessee, in 1941, he was blessed with six living grandmothers. Three generations of grandmas who all resided in the same small town. By the time he was three, he had renamed his favorite grandmother, so that she would not be confused with the others. He called her “Grandpa” since he only knew one living grandfather, which was her husband.

All holidays, especially Christmas, were joyous with Grandpa and Granddaddy. Grandpa wrapped presents with sticky bows and curling ribbons. They were never beautiful or fancy, but you knew there was something special hidden under one of those sticky bows. Her tree was about the same. Colored lights hung with silver icicles and ornaments collected over the years. Nothing matched anything, and the more tinsel she could hang or throw, the happier she was. 

Her time was spent in the kitchen with its wood-burning stove heating the house and warming Granddaddy’s hands as he came in from the lumber mill. He would stoke the fire as the aroma of cinnamon and cloves filled the air. With her apron tied around her waist and flour scattered across a dough bored, Grandpa was on her way to baking her scrumptious jam cakes as gifts for blessed souls. 

 On Christmas Day in 1965, the colored lights were still in their boxes, and no silver icicles hung from any tree. Grandpa quietly made her jam cakes, but Granddaddy was gone. He died suddenly in August of that year, along with Grandpa’s Christmas spirit. 

We tried to console her, but she said, “Christmas won’t ever be the same again, so I would just as soon be alone.” It was the first time I ever knew my Grandpa to lose her infectious joy.

By the next Christmas, Grandpa was back in her warm kitchen, baking an abundance of jam cakes. Her love of Christmas was never quite the same, but her laughter and spirit were healing. 

“Shoot, I was just feelin’ sorry for myself. Christmas is about Jesus bein’ born and the joy we feel because He was. I may not have a tree, but I got the Lord.”

A few years later, I was making my Christmas list of what to give who, when I couldn’t think of a suitable gift for Grandpa. My typewriter was sitting near me, and I began writing a story about this remarkable, humble woman.

I was living in Georgia, and decided to send the story to the Crossville, Tennessee, newspaper. I never received a reply from the editor and began a new search for a meaningful present. 

“Lynn, what have you done?” Grandpa’s voice excitingly asked over the phone.

I immediately began to ponder all my misdeeds in life, and by the way she sounded, I figured God himself must have told her about them all.

When Grandpa moved the 20 miles from Monterey to Crossville after Granddaddy’s death, she would travel back to her hometown every Wednesday to visit family. She always took the Crossville Chronicle for her sister to read. During this weekly road trip, she would stop and chat with her best friend, Hazel, who lived halfway in between. 

The old Dodge pulled onto Hazel’s driveway, and when she applied the squeaking brakes, a group of folks ran from the house screaming her name.

Scared to death, she hopped from the car, “What’s happened? Is anyone sick?” She yelled. 

“Nannie, did you not read that paper in your front seat?” Hazel asked as she pointed to the passenger seat.

“No, I didn’t have time. Why? Whose obituary is in there?” She fearfully questioned as she gazed at the surprised faces. 

“Honey, bring your paper and let’s get in from the cold,” Hazel insisted.

Once inside, Grandpa opened the Chronicle to the second page as the crowd gathered around her. 

“Merry Christmas, Grandpa!” was the nearly two-inch title running boldly across the top of the page. There were no ads, no other words other than those I wrote about the kindest woman I ever knew.

After her tearful thanks over the phone, she said as an afterthought, “Honey, did you know you can write?” 

There are not many women who would allow nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren to call them Grandpa, or who would bake delicate Christmas jam cakes as prized gifts, or who would love others so much that an indelible mark would be left on countless souls. 

Today I write for publications, mainly newspapers, and it all began when love spilled onto paper because my heart couldn’t contain it all. Grandpa is now known beyond the Tennessee hills across the country through the stories I tell of this extraordinarily sweet, God-filled, thoughtful soul. 

Merry Christmas, Grandpa. You were always Christmas to me.