1. Informal: a grandmother (specifically, my father's mother)
I have my Granny's hands. Not the shape, but the skin. When you put lotion on your hands, what happens? Do you simply rub in the lotion, perhaps pause to take in the scent, then finish with softer, moisturized skin? Not I. If I attempt to use a lotion with scent, my hands immediately inflame. Tiny red dots appear, accompanied by burning. This is one of the things I inherited from my Granny - hands that want nothing to do with lovely scented lotions. But I also have her hands in the kitchen, when I dice onions to use in a gumbo. When I stir dough to make cookies. When I place the food on the plate and put the plate before my girls.
My Granny died a few years ago, on the day my youngest daughter was baptized. I miss her often, but especially at Christmas. When I was at that awkward age, between girlhood and adolescence, I started joining my grandmother as she baked the cookies for our family to eat on Christmas Eve. As best I recall, I joined her that first year because I wanted to make cookies to give to my friends. But it became much more than that. When I would come home for Christmas break in college, we baked together. As a newlywed, we baked together. I still make the cookies we made together two decades ago, even if I won't have a crowd to feed them to on Christmas Eve. We eat some. We give lots away and do so with great joy.
One year, we were traveling on Christmas Day and every time we stopped for a restroom break or to gas up the van, we gave a bag of Christmas cookies to the people working at the restaurant or gas station. You would have thought we were giving people gold, they were so excited. One gas station owner wanted me to let my girls pick a candy bar each in exchange. I assured him that wasn't necessary, but I still remember how pleased he was to receive that little gift. I'm sure it would have made my Granny smile to see a stranger in Georgia eating her cookies for a late afternoon Christmas snack.
I learned the basics of how to cook from my grandmother. I learned to start a second type of cookie while the first batch was baking. I learned how to use a candy thermometer (although I'll confess I don't own one - the pralines we made together are no longer a part of my holiday repertoire). I learned to make a variety so that your guests and family can have several yummy bites. And I still use her mini muffin tins to make pecan tassies each year.
I also learned Christmas carols from Granny. She had a beautiful voice and lead the choir at our church for years. I didn't inherit her love for music (I think my brain is missing a crucial piece when it comes to understanding music), but I love, love, love Christmas carols. And I know a lot of them. On command, I can sing two or three verses of many favorites. This has served me well as a mother, putting my children to bed during Advent. Joy to the World? Off we go with three or four verses. Silent Night? O Come, All Ye Faithful? I've even recently added a few with O Come, O Come Emmanuel being a newfound favorite. And while I didn't inherit Granny's voice, her understanding of music or her interest in it, I think B did.
B is singing in two different choirs this holiday season - one at our church, one at another church. She loves it and she does it well. For several years, we've worked to find an activity that B will love as her own. She was good at soccer, but didn't want to keep playing. Basketball she liked, but it required constant coaxing to get her to fulfill her commitment. But choir? She knows when her practices are, has her songs memorized, does it all with joy and anticipation. It thrills my heart for several reasons. Primarily because she's found something she loves. But also because I see Granny in her.
A few weeks ago, I came across a note in Granny's handwriting. It was tucked away in a book of hers that I had and when it fell out, I immediately recognized the writing. It made me remember a story my mother once shared. When I was in college, my mom stopped by my grandmother's office. As she walked in, Granny was writing a word, then sweeping her hand across it to see if the ink got on her hand. "What are you doing?" my mother laughingly asked. "Oh. I'm putting together a package for Shannon and she doesn't like it when the ink gets on her hand when she writes. I was checking to see which pens to send her." (As a Leftie, this is a big problem for me. When writing papers in high school and college, my left pinkie would be smeared with ink by the time I finished a paper.) It's a sweet memory to think about my grandmother, hours and miles away, doing something so little, so simple, so sweet.
Can you tell I miss her?