I was 12 that year. I was in 7th grade, I was the object of a hate club, and worst of all, my grandmother had died that September. My grandmother and I were very close. She lived next door and I walked over to her trailer most days after school to spend some time playing Uno or Scrabble with her. I had actually lived there with her for a few months during my mom’s short-lived stint in the Army. I know this still causes my sister pain, since she was cut out of our loop through no fault of her own, but Grandma was my best friend, and I think I was hers. We were peas and carrots.
I had also, several years before, discovered Narnia. I loved Narnia. I wanted to hop on the Dawn Treader with Lucy and Eustace and do battle against the White Queen and go further up and further in with Aslan. It was just all my little imagination could ever want, and realizing it was also church-sanctioned was just the most amazing thing ever! I could read about fauns and be a good Christian, too! I had lobbied for my mom to buy me The Chronicles of Narnia ever since I first laid eyes on them. Every time we went to a book store, I found the box set and carried it around hopefully, hugging it close, and moping when she said no.
So, we come back to Christmas when I was 12. My grandmother was gone, my great-grandmother was living with my uncle in an Alzheimer’s fog rendering her unable to come for our traditional Christmas Eve sleepover (she would die herself within a few weeks of this), and for the very first time ever, I was jaded about Christmas. What was so special about this holiday when you had to pretend to be happy, though you were heartbroken and disappointed and just utterly out of sorts? How could it be Christmas without Grandma Ford?
For my mom, though, I played along. I opened my stocking and acted excited about the orange in the toe, and feigned excitement at the gifts under the tree. I am sure I got lots of wonderful things. The one I remember, though, was the last one my mom handed to me. It was a square, covered in snowman paper, with the front of an old Christmas card for a tag that said, “To: Rae, From: Grandma”. I’d torn open the others in a rush, but that one I opened very deliberately, very carefully, so as not to tear the paper. It was, of course, the Narnia books. My grandma had bought them before she died, planning ahead for my Christmas present even though she was so ill she wouldn’t see Christmas, and my mom had found them on the shelf of her bedroom closet. She’d wrapped them, and the tag had been one she’d found with the Christmas decorations from a previous year, and wanted to use so it would be in Grandma’s handwriting. I’m not ashamed to tell you I cried. I sat right there amongst the torn up Christmas paper and tinsel and bawled like a toddler hugging those books, and so did my mom. Heck, I’m crying now, writing this story for you.
I still have them. They hold a place of honor on my bookshelf. To me they aren’t just silly paperbacks in a cardboard box. They are my Grandma’s love, in writing. She couldn’t stay with me, but she gave me Narnia.