Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Village

During this Christmas season I wanted to share a story I wrote about an incident that occurred while working for the local newspaper. My great-grandma (actually step-great-grandmother) was a German immigrant. She was really sweet to us when we were kids. I remember her fondly. Look at how cute she is.

Great-Grandma Gussie and Great-Grandpa

Grandma Gussie's Christmas Village

While walking through the mall one evening I stopped in front of the Hallmark store and looked in amazement at the expensive porcelain Christmas village displayed in the front window. The buildings were so detailed and realistic. The realism was enhanced by the tiny figurines and street lamps.

It brought back memories of when I was five years old, sitting in front of great-grandma Gussie's Christmas tree. She carefully arranged each blown glass ornament which had been brought over from the old country. Next came the popcorn strings and the old fashioned tinsel which was heavy and the color of blue grey lead. Modern tinsel seems cheap and garish in comparison.

When Grandma declared the tree was finished she would sneak off to her bedroom closet where she kept her lovely Christmas village. They were nothing like the Hallmark set, just 8 simple buildings constructed out of cardboard which had been painted and sprinkled with clear, sparkly glitter. On the back of each building was a place to insert a single bulb. The little village glowed under the tree as the light passed through the red acetate that covered the windows.


Many years before my mother sat in front of Gussie's tree just as I had. Over the years we've discussed our family traditions and wondered what had happened to Gussie's decorations after she passed away.

Last Christmas my mother received a call from her cousin Joyce. They talked about Christmases past when the family attended services in the old German church. After church everyone would gather at Grandma's house for a late night dinner and open gifts around her tree. My mom wondered out loud about what had happened to the decorations.

"Why, I have them," said Joyce.

My mother told her how vividly I remembered the tree and what a special part of my childhood it had become.

At the end of the work day yesterday I received a call from the receptionist.

"Someone wants to speak to you" she said.

As I approached the desk I recognized Joyce. She handed me a box and said, "This is for you. I just wanted you to have them. I knew you would care for them."

I looked inside and felt my throat tighten up. I managed to gather up some words of thanks, fighting back the tears. We hugged and said our goodbyes and Joyce left to finish her Christmas shopping.

It was late and I grabbed my coat and walked out into the cold and dark parking lot. One of the reporters passed me on his way back to the office to file his story. He paused long enough to ask, "What's in the box?"

"Nothing much," I replied. "Just a dollar's worth of cardboard and glitter."

NOTE: Within six months Joyce was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter. Her beautiful gesture remains as a special moment in my life. It's an example of the beauty of a generous spirit.

I first published this story here in 2007.


Susan said...

What a touching story. As I was reading, I never imagined the ending. God bless Aunt Joyce. Enjoy your special Christmas gift.

Leslie T. said...

What a special story. I'm so glad that you've got the Christmas village. So sorry to hear about your Aunt Joyce's passing. She sounds like a lovely person.

Becky said...

Beautiful story! I have a similar village and enjoy it very much!

Lisa D. said...

What a special story! And what wonderful family memories. I have my grandmother's everyday dishes. After she passed away my uncle got most of her china and had these dishes in a box. He said they were their everyday dishes and not worth anything. I gladly took them. They are very pretty - they are china, made in England, with a picture replica of the queen's bouquet presented during her visit to Canada in 1939. That would be Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George, not Queen Elizabeth II. And they are now my everyday plates and remind me of my grandma every day.
Can I just change the subject for a second and remind everyone that when a school bus is stopped, with flashing lights on, it means children are getting on or getting off that bus - DO NOT PASS! Sorry, it just happened to my children this morning, 20 minutes ago, and I'm still angry that one of my neighbours didn't feel like waiting 2 more minutes for the bus to leave my driveway.

Vee said...

Thank you for sharing it speaks to our ability to listen to the nudgings of the spirit as Joyce did. Do you display it? I hope so!

Donna said...

Wow, I have chills and tears in my eyes. What a special lady and sweet gesture on her part. She knew you'd care for the village and pass it on...

Millicent said...

Thank you for sharing. I love Christmas and all other traditions/memories. I think God give us these treasures to remember those we love but have lost.

lifeinredshoes said...

You know, those little houses may have been made of cardboard and glitter, but the memories are worth a million bucks:)
I collect the new knock-offs, I hope the memories they make are just as good.

Anonymous said...

My husband's grandma had a small collection of the houses and also lovinly displayed them. We have them now and I have added some more. It very hare to fine good ones now. I am glad them came to you. Linda