Gifts, God and Grandpa John

This time of year I am thinking about gifts. I'm not focused on getting them, but on giving them. I love giving gifts! I just wish I had enough to give as much as I want to give. I wish we had more so that I could give my kids what they actually want. Thinking about that can be a little bit stressful. I want to bless my kids. Blessing is not always in gifts - I know that - but that doesn't stop me from wanting to give them what they want because I am a gift giver. I hope that my kids appreciate their gifts, even if they get something that is not on their list.

It makes me think about the gifts that God gives me. Sometimes they are not on my list. "God, would you please give me a better understanding of your love," I might say. And He does give it to me, but it's not the gift I thought it would be. Maybe it's a terrible trial that brings me to a better understanding of his love when I thought I was asking for a flowery beautiful easy thing. Maybe my request is a certain job that I think would be good to have. But he wants to give me the gift that depending on him brings. Isn't dependence on him a wonderful gift? A necessary thing to have? And yet I can easily be disappointed in not getting what I hoped for.

My most disappointing Christmas present ever was given to me by my Grandpa John. It was a bottle of Elmer's glue and a couple rolls of cherry lifesavers. I was probably eight years old or so, and didn't quite know how to hide my disappointment in not getting something more exciting.

My cousin recently posted a scrapbook layout on her blog with a photo of Grandpa John. She reminisced about how, whenever we would get in the car with him, he would say "and away we go." Then we'd all say together, "where we stop, nobody knows!" (It's important, if you want to get it right, to say it with a sing-songy Swedish lilt, and to draw the o's out as Minnesotans are prone to do.)
"I love that picture of Grandpa," I wrote. "I'd love to have a copy." Later that week I received two prints of the photo in the mail.

Coincidentally, the same day I got the prints of Grandpa John, I was working on a Christmas project using some Elmer's glue and Lifesavers.

Grandpa called cherry lifesavers "red ones." "Would you like a red one?" he would ask. For a long time I didn't know they had a name other than red ones. He always seemed to have a roll of red ones in his pocket. To this day the taste of red ones brings me back to Grandpa John. So does the smell of anti-dandruff shampoo and the taste of certain yucky throat lozenges.

My grandmother died when my mother was seven and Grandpa never remarried. He raised his four kids with the help of his sisters, Emma and Hannah. Many years later, when his sisters were in the nursing home, Grandpa would go visit them at least once a week. When I visited them, I was especially enthralled with the veins on Emma's hands. They practically laid on top of her hands like bluish roads on a map, the blood traveling along them. I think that's why I called them "blooders." "Emma, can I see your blooders," I'd ask when visiting her, taking her hand without waiting for her to offer it to me. I liked to squish her blooders.

Grandpa John couldn't pronounce his j's very well because he learned to speak Swedish at home in north central Minnesota where his parents settled to farm the land. I loved to hear him say Yanuary, Yune and Yuly. I also loved to hear him talk about the olden days, which I pictured were in black and white.

"Tell me about the olden days, Grandpa," I'd ask by way of insisting. He would shake his shoulders up and down and purse his lips - which was the way he laughed - and tell me about the olden days.  In the olden days they had to milk the cows before they walked to school. In the olden days they made their own play things. The girls made their own dolls and the boys played baseball with a rock wrapped with rags and a stick.

When it was "sloonka time" he would have "a sloonk," which is what he called coffee. He liked his coffee with sugar. I was so proud when he let me sugar it for him (two to three long pours) and he would declare it "yust right." Then I'd watch him pour the cup into a bowl and drink his sloonk from the bowl.

I enjoyed watching Grandpa John in his carpentry workshop. I was fascinated by the saws and sanders. His pencil, not round but rectangle so that it wouldn't roll away, was sharpened with a blade and stuck behind his ear while he worked. I would work with him down there, he with his wood and nails, me with my paper and glue.

Grandpa didn't watch a lot of television, but I do remember that he enjoyed watching Hogan's Heroes and the Minnesota Twins. I learned to like baseball while watching the Minnesota Twins' games with Grandpa John. Now as I watch my son John play baseball, I think Grandpa would have enjoyed watching him, too.

Like a typical stoic Swede, Grandpa John wasn't a man of many words. Except when he said grace before meals. Then he would pray for all the missionaries in the church by name. He wasn't really a gift giver either. When my mom was growing up, at Christmas she remembers receiving pencils and socks from him.

And so, when I think now of the present I got from him that Christmas, the red ones and Elmer's glue, I think of it fondly. He gave me gifts, even though he wasn't a gift giver, because he loved me. He gave me something that I could use, something that he and I shared together. It was not what I had expected. Or wanted, really. But I am thankful for it.

I'm thankful, too, for the reminder it is to me of how I respond to the gifts that God gives me. Sometimes I don't appreciate God's gifts. Sometimes I am disappointed in them. Unlike Grandpa John, God knows how to give gifts! His gifts are the very best gifts. Better than anything in the Toys R Us catalog. And he gives lavishly. Lovingly. The bible tells me that, and I've experienced it. Over and over again.

God's gifts may not always be the ones I want, but they are the ones I need. And that's really what I want.

1 comment:

Grant said...

...also the smell of Copenhagen snuff.


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