An unannounced visit to see my grandfather in his little store was the beginning of a surprise beyond our imagination. The little bell tinkled as the door opened and closed behind me. My grandfather looked up, and seeing who it was, broke into a big smile.
“Well hello, Baby. I didn’t know you were in town. What brings you here?”
“Just coming to see my favorite grandpa,” I said, giving him a big squeeze.
Chatting away, we made our way into the back room where Papaw generally ate his lunch and rested in his rocking chair in between customers.
While we were talking, my eyes fell on an old china cabinet tucked back in a darkened corner of the room. I had never before noticed it. In spite of its aged and crackled varnish, peeling veneer, and free-hanging glass door, I could see it had potential.
“Where did this come from, Papaw?” I asked while trying unsuccessfully to swing the glass door back into place.
“Oh, this was part of your grandmother’s dining room set,” he answered offhandedly.
“Really?” I said trying to contain my utter surprise. “But I’ve never seen this piece before,”
I had eaten meals around my Grandmother Dee’s table for thirty-three years, and this was certainly news to me. Suddenly, I was taken with an absolutely wonderful idea.
Impulsively, I spun around and asked, “Papaw, can I have it?”
My grandfather had no earthly idea why I wanted that old broken down cabinet, but he was a generous man, especially with his first grandchild whom he proudly claimed to have rescued when an infant, from the Coffeyville, Kansas hundred-year flood. He and my grandmother married a month afterward, but from the day of the rescue forward, he was my Papaw and I was his girl.
“Why sure, Honey. You can have it.” His soft eyes twinkled with delight.
For the next two months I worked tirelessly, stripping old lacquer, tenderly: sanding, repairing delicate pieces of veneer, staining and varnishing. Each touch was filled with love. With the glass door properly seated, the transformation was nothing short of miraculous. Dee’s china cabinet was restored to its former glory, and Christmas was just around the corner.
I could hardly wait.
It was only two and a half hours from our house to my grandparent’s place, but it was definitely taking forever. At last we arrived. The kids, sworn to secrecy, piled out of the car and ran ahead of my husband and me into the old familiar house. We were all bubbling with anticipation and excitement. Dee and Papaw greeted us at the door with arms outstretched. We were home again, and it was Christmas.
The happy sounds of warm chatter and clanging pots and pans filled the kitchen. Three of us in Dee’s tiny space made preparing the Christmas dinner all the more fun.
Predictably, Dee announced, “Now, put on these sweet little aprons so you won’t muss your pretty little outfits.”
Mom and I looked knowingly at each other, smiled, and dutifully tied the aprons around our waists, and began washing the mountain of dirty cookware stacked on the counter. Dee had a knack for using every pot, pan, and dish in the kitchen. If you wanted a place to stack dirty dishes after the meal, these used ones had to go.
With stomach growling, I drooled, “The turkey and dressing smell heavenly, Dee.”
“It will be de-licious, Darlin’,” she cooed. Turning to Mom she added, “Billie, would you get out the marmalade?”
The irresistible oven aromas floated through each room inviting a hungry family to gather at the table. Mom and I paraded the dishes past eager eyes, to my grandmother’s round mahogany table; mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, roastin’ ears, and of course, Dee’s widely acclaimed apple pie.
Scanning the table for any missing items, I carefully placed the tea and water pitchers upon Dee’s mahogany buffet table under one of my favorite of Dee's collection, a stunning piece of old silk quilt framed in gilded antiquity. Everything looked amazing. This was the perfect setting for the perfect meal.
Only one thing was missing.
I slipped over and whispered in my husband’s ear, “Okay, Don, it’s time.
As I went to the kitchen to retrieve the crystal dish of marmalade, I saw him and Papaw slip out the door.
Dee was never happier than when people filled her house… especially family.
“Okay, dearies.” she announced, “Come sit down. Dinner is ready.”
The children were the first to scoot their chairs up to the table. Rumor had it that there was always room for at least one more around Dee’s table, even though it was intended only for eight. One thing for sure, there was always plenty of food, “just in case someone else should drop by.”
Dee stepped back into the kitchen for something, while everyone was taking their places at the table, all except Don and Papaw, of course. Before Dee could catch them, they slipped through the front door with the newly furbished china cabinet.
“Shhh,” I hushed the children, holding my finger to my lips.
Don and Papaw slid the cabinet against the wall on the other side of the table, facing the kitchen. No sooner was it in place than Dee entered the room, stopping short as her eyes fell upon the secret gift.
Silence filled the room as we all held our breath.
“Oh-h-h,” she whispered as she covered her mouth with her hand, and began to cry…and to laugh…and then to cry again.
“Don’t cry, Dee,” Valarie, our daughter pleaded. I think we all reached for the tissues, but oh, what joy filled our hearts as we laughed and hugged Dee and each other.
My grandmother never said, and I never asked, but I can’t help thinking there was indeed a story behind her china cabinet’s demise. Now we all have a Christmas to remember because of it.
God gave me a special gift too that Christmas.
Yes, I had a longing in my heart to restore my beloved grandmother’s china cabinet to her. My thoughts were of her. It did not enter my mind what I might want for Christmas. No gift could have given me the overwhelming joy and deep satisfaction I received simply by fulfilling an unspoken desire of someone I love.
That year I learned what the Lord meant when he said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The following Christmas, Dee was gone. Cancer had taken her earthly life. The day of the sale I watched as they carried Dee’s china cabinet past me out the door, and I cried. I remembered the blessing my sweet grandmother and I received that Christmas day, the tears of love and joy we shed, and I thanked God.
© 2016 Terry Magness