The dread of Christmas weighed heavy. It would be the first without our youngest daughter, Molly, following her recent move 12 hours away to Canon City.
The shingles diagnosis on Tuesday of Christmas week after having spent all day Monday with my 3 and 2 year old grandchildren further amplified the disconnect with “the most wonderful time of the year”. Not only was I not sure of whether they had received the chicken pox vaccine, I wasn’t sure whether we had had their mother, our oldest daughter, vaccinated as a child, and she was a week overdue with grandchild number three.
I now had to add to her and her husband’s stress by advising them of my diagnosis. Even though pain was becoming increasingly intense, discovering that they had all been vaccinated was salve to the soul (active shingles cases can transmit chicken pox to those without natural immunity or who have been vaccinated.). However, I would now have to remain isolated and not be able to hold or be near my newest grandchild who was scheduled for delivery on Wednesday. Nor would I be able to attend Christmas Eve services with our family and fulfill my ushering responsibilities for our church’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Also out was attending the large Christmas Eve gathering that our second daughter, Ellen, had been planning to host at her downtown Austin residence for friends, family and guests.
The advent and safe delivery of our grandson 1:30 AM Thursday, Christmas Eve Eve, provided a new dimension of understanding for why we celebrate Christmas. It checked my growing self-pity from isolation and being alone while my wife was able to be at our daughter and son-in-law’s watching our grandchildren. Except I wasn’t totally alone. I had Ranger, a 90 pound German Shepherd we were hosting for a friend, by my side watching his movie of choice, Call of the Wild (his preference over Old Yeller or To Kill a Mockingbird) while awaiting word of the birth of our grandson.
Christmas Eve arrived and I found myself home alone again while others gathered for worship, carols, feasting, and welcoming home our grandson. The heaviness from shingles pain and from missing out was intensifying. I now looked like I had been tied down in a live fire ant mound by Comanches or been on the wrong end of Sam Bass’ sawed-off Greener.
My wife finally arrived home from our daughter and son-in-law’s home late evening. The multitude of unfulfilled preparations she had planned for the week, and my ill-temper from shingles discomfort was not a good combination and we were out-of-sorts. Then the text message from, Ellen, daughter number two, that she and our son, who had just arrived from San Antonio, were loading up leftovers following her Christmas Eve party and heading out to our house.
He arrived first, giving us the chance to catch up with him, as Ellen had more gifts to wrap before heading out.
It was now well into the first hour of Christmas morning. My wife and son decided to retire. Then another text message from Ellen: she would be further delayed as she had to make a side trip to Pflugerville to check on the pets she was tending for friends. I was determined to stay up and wait for her arrival, not wanting her to be welcomed by a quiet house after her extensive Christmas Eve preparations. Anyway, the pain from shingles was peaking, making sleep elusive.
At 2:00 AM, I put a saucepan of water on to boil to satisfy a strange craving for buttered grits. Just as I was about to take the full serving in one bite, I heard Ellen pull in the driveway and decided to offer her my hastily-preferred delicacy of southern nobles.
Serving spoon in one hand and saucepan in the other, I walked out to greet her just as she was exiting her car. Her countenance was quite cheery, so I just assumed she had regained perspective following the events of the evening and was just excited to finally be with more family. I extended the saucepan and spoon.
“Hey! Got some hot, buttered grits for ya!”
“Sounds good. First, I need some help unloading. But don’t look in the backseat. I have things in the trunk I need help carrying in.”
I proceeded to walk towards the back of her car, still wagging the pan of grits.
“Um, you’re going to need both hands.”
I did a U-turn to deposit the pan and returned outside to the back of her car. Ellen then popped the trunk remotely while we are chatting. I instinctively bent to reach in as the trunk raised automatically, scanning the contents to see what needed to be removed while trying to suppress thoughts of the thief who had invaded and cleaned out her car and trunk only a month earlier.
My eyes adjusted just as I caught movement in the deep recess of the trunk. Then a face!
I yelled a silent scream while reflexively slamming the trunk lid shut and jumping back the instant I saw the body.
The silent yuletide night exploded with Molly’s laughter bellowing from the trunk. Ellen was bent over convulsing in cachinnation.
They secured the win in scaring the shingles out of me. And our neighborhood just missed experiencing a White Gritsmas.
Truly, a very Merry Christmas to remember.
God is good!
Copyright © 2021 Don Stroud