I know this isn’t the time for a Christmas story, but it’s time for a story that wouldn’t wait for Christmas.
The boy stood in the parlor, staring intently at the curio cabinet, occasionally walking to one side of it or the other, his attention tightly focused on the contents. It was as though he was taking inventory, memorizing the contents and cataloging them carefully in his mind. His grandmother watched for some time, smiling, knowing just what he was doing. It was the same process that she’d watched for the past three years. It was still June, but she knew that he was “Christmas Shopping”. The curio cabinet contained items of only one kind. It housed her collection of almost two hundred salt and pepper shakers, some from all over the world, others handed down from her mother or family, and even some received as gifts from a certain grandson she admired. The last category were her favorites as she knew how much study and effort went into the selection, and all the searching and wandering it took for him to find “just the right” new ones.
“It’s awfully quiet out there. Would you like to come in and have some cookies and milk”?
“Sure Gram. I’ll be right there. Did you make them with chocolate chips and walnuts”?
“Yep ! …and I made enough that you can have all that you want…, and maybe take a few home with you”.
He sauntered into the room, right over to her chair and hugged her…
“You’re too good to me, Gram,” he smiled, “but I like it…, and I love you for it”.
He was older now. He’d be 14 in October, but, to her, he would always be that little boy who sat on her lap as she read to him, and then taught him to read. She’d done so much like that. It was through her gentle encouragement and instruction that he learned arithmetic, reading, and so many of life’s mysteries. They had shared so much through the years, and now he was growing up, searching for and finding new horizons, and dreaming new dreams, but at the same time, always confiding in her and sharing his thoughts and feelings with her…, asking for her thoughts and feelings about the happenings in his young life. The latest problem was girls. He didn’t quite know how to approach them, half the time didn’t understand them, just knew that there were one or two he liked more than others. Yeah, he was walking right into quicksand, and short of telling him to just stay away from them, she was at a loss for advice.
“You just gotta do what feels right and then see how they take it”
“But, Gram…, ?
“Just don’t worry about it. If they don’t like you, it’s their problem. Any girl would be lucky to have the attention of a boy like you. You don’t want to be around those that are phony or don’t like you anyway. The right one will come along soon enough. Just be patient, you’ll see”.
It was late afternoon and his brother would be there soon to take him home for chores. He kissed Gram goodbye and headed out the door. She shook her head and smiled, thinking how complex life must feel for him at this stage of his life…, girls !!!
The rest of the summer, every time he was in town, he wandered the stores and shops looking for salt and pepper shakers but nothing seemed good enough or beautiful enough. His Gram was special and he wanted only something special for her, commonplace just wouldn’t do. It was September now and school had started…, highschool. It was a whole different world for him…, and for most all of the incoming freshman class – so many students, so many classes and classrooms, and so many different teachers, and every class was in a different part of the building – a whole new world indeed. Girls…, there were a lot of them, pretty ones too, but who had time for them? Geometry, Biology, English, Latin, Typing, Art…, and homework in most of them left little free time for any leisure social activity. Sports ! His father had nixed any idea of that stating that his chores on the farm were far too important to be getting involved in any sports.
Late November and he was still searching for his gift for Gram. He’d been to most of the usual stores in town and was really discouraged with what he found there. One of the clerks had suggested he try an antique store a couple of blocks away, that they may have something. On Friday, during his lunch hour he went to that store to explore. After wandering through two rooms of old stuff he came to a room that held nothing but glass, dishes, and silver. In the far corner, in a locked cabinet, he saw what he wanted. They were cobalt blue crystal, wrapped in filagree silver, and in a velvet lined wooden box. The only problem was the price. They were marked at ten dollars, which, at the time, was a fortune, especially for a 14 year old. The old lady who owned the shop came to see if she could help him and after she found what he was looking at, lowered her head and smiled.
“Young man, who would these be for, and why would you want something like them? There are others that are very nice and not nearly as expensive. Is this something special, for someone special?”
“Yes maam. It’s for my Gram, and she is someone really special, and I wanted a really special gift for her. I really want these. I know I can’t afford them, but I’d do anything, work for you during lunch or after school…”
The shopkeeper took them from the cabinet and put them away in the back room. When she returned, she took his name and told him that she’d think about it and that he should stop back next Friday.
“By the way, who is your grandmother”?
He gave Gram’s name, and told her about all the wonderful things that she always did for him and how much he loved her. With that, he headed back to school, somewhat dejected. They were so perfect…, and she’d probably forget about him and sell them to someone else. The week passed and he went back to the store, hoping that the set was still there, but when he arrived, there was a sign on the door, “closed”, the shelves were bare, and no one answered a knock on the door. He sat down on the steps. It was too good to be true. What could he do?
Was the Saturday before Christmas. He was alone and the rest of the family had gone shopping. There was a knock at the door and when he answered, he saw a car pulling away, down the lane. There on the porch sat a box wrapped in brown paper, tied in string. It had a label on the top – FOR YOUR GRAM. He grabbed the box and ran to his room with it, tearing the string and paper from it as he went up the stairs. It was the wooden box he’d seen in the antique store. Inside he found the beautiful silver and blue crystal salt and pepper set, along with an envelope addressed to him. A note inside said:
My dear Paul,
When you came to my store that November day I was in the process of closing my business. I had sold most of my inventory but for a few special items, of which the set you admired so much, was one. Your story of your grandmother and how special you felt she was touched my heart. I knew you didn’t have the price of the set and probably would be long after the Christmas holiday before you did. It is a special set that was given to me by my mother, and, rather than sell it to some dealer to whom it would mean nothing, I would rather you have it to give to your Gram. In this way I’ll know that I’m giving it to someone who cares and who will give it to someone that he loves.
God bless you, and Merry Christmas,
He had tears in his eyes as he finished reading the note and looked at the beautiul gift lying there on the bed. In his wildest dreams he could never have imagined that he would have such a fine gift to give. What a miracle ! The following Monday, on his lunch hour at school, he went to the shop. It was still closed, but he wedged an envelope in the door, in hopes that the owner would come and see it. Inside was a note thanking her for her kindness and generosity.
That Christmas Eve, after everyone else had opened their gifts, he brought out the box and quietly gave it to Gram. When she opened it and saw the set she said nothing, but looked lovingly at him as tears ran down her face. She pulled him to her, hugged him close and kissed him.
“Oh, Paul…, what am I to do with you? I’ve never had anything so beautiful…”
The following autumn Gram succumbed to the cancer that she’d been fighting for more than ten years. There would be no more Christmas Eve celebrations with her, no more quiet conversations over milk and cookies, no more teaching or sage advice…, only the memories of the time and the love that we shared. Oh, I forgot…, the salt and pepper shaker set. Before she died, she had given them to her attorney to be given to me after her will was read. They reside as a centerpiece in a curio cabinet in my living room.