Visiting my grandmother became a girl’s day out event in the latter years of her life. My mom, my sister, my niece, and I would all make a day out of driving to Waldron and doing whatever Ma wanted. Even at 94, she was able to live alone and take care of herself and a few pets. But “going to town” had become something she could only do with help. So we knew we would be going to Walmart, Dollar General, and eating lunch at McDonalds, and we would always finish up with an ice cream cone.
Ma wasn’t wealthy. In fact, she lived on a fixed income, and several of my family members often sent her cash to help her survive. She lived in a tiny little house with a bird, a cat, and a dog, and spent most of her days watching her “stories,” and talking to her little old lady friends on the phone. But she never missed a birthday. Even after our family grew and she had four generations to remember, she always sent a card and a dollar. I have a box full of cards from Ma, and you can trace much of my life by reading the short letter she wrote inside of them. There are the years when she was asking about baby Lucas, the years when she was telling me about sick relatives, and the years when she was chewing me out because I hadn’t been to see her for so long (she got to decide what “so long” meant!). As she got older, and money ran short, my sister and I would often take her bags of all occasion cards and rolls of stamps so that she could continue to send out the cards which meant so much to her. She sent sympathy cards, anniversary cards, and Easter cards, and they were always personal and from her heart.
At Christmas, even after most people had begun to send out electronic messages or posts on Facebook, Ma still spent several days preparing and mailing out holiday cards. And she kept note of those of us in the family who sent her a card and those who didn’t! She used scotch tape to hang cards up on one wall all during the month of December, and when we made our girl’s day out trip to see her before Christmas, one wall of her house would be covered with cards sent from all over the United States. Long lost cousins and relatives most of us didn’t even remember, but she did. She kept the correspondence going all through the years through the cards that she sent. And even people who didn’t send out stacks of Christmas cards, made sure to send one at least to Ma.
I remember standing in front of her Christmas card wall the year she broke her hip and was in the hospital at Christmas. There were the cards which had come in early and she had put up, and ones lying on the table which had come after she fell. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I found scotch tape and put them on the wall so they would be there when she came home. She never did. Complications from her fall caused her to die on New Year’s night that year, and I removed the Christmas cards from the wall as we cleaned out her little house a few weeks later.
It has been a hard year. Mass shootings, nuclear weapons, and prolific hate fill our news feeds. Education, science, conservation and intelligence are under attack, and many important foundations of our very republic are in danger of falling. Many people are afraid because of their skin color, or sexual orientation, or gender, and protecting the weak and powerless is lost among protecting the rights of corporations and those who want to own weapons meant for nothing but to kill. Depression is on the rise and morality is in decline. The faith of the gospel has been hijacked by those who use it for control and power rather than for peace and love.
I miss Ma.
Even though I always played along, I never really understood her fixation on sending physical cards. But this year, I think I get it. I went to Walmart yesterday and bought four boxes of Christmas cards. I plan to spend the next few nights looking up addresses and sending out about 150 cards, many to people I haven’t seen or talked to in years. I hope that as they find it in their mailbox, they will realize that for at least a moment, someone was thinking specifically of them. I hope they tape it to their wall so that they will be reminded every time they walk by it that someone loves them and they are not alone.
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Ma died on January 1, 2014 with my mom, my sister, my niece and I all sitting beside her bed in that hospital room. This Christmas, as I fill out Christmas cards, I do so in her memory, and the memory of how it felt to get cards from her.
May we all feel loved this Christmas. May the power of community and peace overcome the forces of hate and corruption. And may the birth of a baby in a manger far away and long ago inspire you to be a little kinder, to reach out a little more, and to live out your love in tangible ways so that people know they are not alone.
Ma would be proud.