Sunday Afternoon Rocking
It is inevitable, this time of year as holidays begin, that our thoughts would begin to be touched by long ago memories, long ago loved ones. And it is inevitable, in this season of gift-giving, that we begin to reflect upon what a gift truly is, and what gifts we have given or been given that are truly the most meaningful. It seems the more we mature, the more we realize those gifts we clasp tightest in our heart cost nothing in monetary terms at all, but were gifts of the heart. Each Christmas I tell the story of "Pennies", the gift my paternal grandfather was unfailing in giving all the days of my life. Today I tell the story of my maternal grandfather, and his own loving gift to me.
A Grandfather's Final Gift
When autumn comes I always remember a very long ago one, when I was a young girl and was just beginning to grasp and appreciate all the shimmering magic of that special time of year. It is a time when russets and golds, burnished coppers and siennas gently sway in a breeze until they seem blended together in a softly smudged masterpiece of brilliant hues and subtle blends. It is a time when the coolness of the air caresses your cheek and the breeze that does the caressing seems to be whispering of something to come. It is a time when the crunching of leaves under your feet make you want to go romping romping....just to hear them some more...
But there is no more beautiful place to realize the glories of the season than in the mountains. And a long ago autumn I was in the mountains. The Smokey Mountains are breathtaking in any season at all, rising up in fullness, wrapping themselves around you in all directions as if a mama were clasping you in her arms. In every season, they are awesome with the mists that rise like the very breath the living mountains exude. In every season, they are breathtaking with layers of ever softening hues of color fading into the distance, mountain after mountain. But in the autumn, when the colors on the mountains are clamoring for attention, when whatever direction you turn is another shouting, "Here I am! I am more beautiful".... "No! This way! It is I who is more beautiful! Me!"..."Here! You are forgetting to turn to me!"...then you know...no palace, no great antiquity, no masterpiece is so arrayed as these mountains.
It was such an autumn.
For as long as I can remember my grandfather was sick. He woke each morning choking for breath, and hacking such deep painful coughs that it hurt to listen to him. He was thin and quiet, rarely having a great deal to say, and somehow in some odd way I found that comforting: that I could sit beside him in his company, yet never be asked all the patronizing questions that adults found so important to press upon children. This autumn he seemed ever thinner, ever weaker, ever quieter, and yet, there seemed something bearing on his mind. I did not ask him what. It was not the way of the relationship between us. We never talked. We were mostly simply quiet together. I knew how to be very quiet. An only child who has long been comfortable with the silence of solitude can do that as well as an elder. This autumn the family was camped together in the Smokies, something we did from time to time. And when the time came for my family to take its leave from the others, my grandfather reached over and touched me gently. "Let's take a walk," he said.
It was surprising. My grandfather never walked. He sat quietly mostly. But side by side we slowly wended a path through the forest, and he began to tell a story. Because the story was from a time I did not understand, and the plot revolved around logging, something I knew nothing of, the details of the story escaped me, although I remember the gist of it. The moral I remember most of all. And the story my grandfather told me was to warn me, that in this world there are folks to be wary of, and one must not always believe what one is told, that one must be careful in this world and think for oneself using common sense. That was it. A simple short story with a moral, and then we turned and walked back through the woods to the campsite, and bid goodbye.
It was the last time I ever saw my grandfather alive, and I knew even then what he had done. Lacking in material possessions, and somehow feeling there was something richer than this to give anyway, he had given me a story: some words to remember, perhaps to ease me through something life would dish out later. He must have known he would not see me again, and must have known he would not be there as I grew into a young woman. Unable to be in my life, to protect or insulate or guide me, he had only a simple story to give. And perhaps it was the richest thing he could have given. It has meant a great deal to me all of my life that I had such a grandfather who, despite his frailty, wished to take a walk and give me a bit of wisdom to ease my way into the world. And I have surely remembered that wisdom time and time again throughout my life. It has meant much to know I had such a grandfather who despite his frailty, wished to take a walk with me: to give me a story. He may have known that I, the lover of stories, would treasure this above all other things. And so I have.
When autumn slips in, begins to push its subtle way into the world until summer at last beats a hasty retreat leaving behind a triumphant shout of color from a new season, I never fail to remember that long ago one. In the very midst of colors clamoring, there came a gentle gift from a grandfather I would never see again.
In this season of gift-giving, perhaps the most precious things we can give those we love, is the gift of thought and heart. Consider those gifts given to you along the way, and consider those which have meant the most. I dare say many of you will discover the same that I have. Those gifts most precious, most remembered, were not purchased in any store, and can only be given by means of a loving heart. Those gifts most treasured came without ribbons or wrapping, never dressed a shop window, and would be treasured only by the person whose heart motivated the gift and the receiver who was loved well enough to be given it.
Just a thought,
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