Thursday, December 24, 2009
The Year of the Pony
By Candy Arrington
“I’m not having a Christmas tree this year. There is no reason to go to all the fuss and trouble when I’m here alone. I don’t need a tree.”
With that declaration, the tiny, white-haired woman turned her walker with a thump, thump, thump, as she slowly pivoted her arthritic knees to follow. Her wheezy asthmatic breathing came in short gusts as she labored across the hardwood floor. Buried in her exhales was a slight whistle of a familiar tune to keep her mind off her pain.
“It just won’t seem like Christmas,” I argued.
“Christmas has never been the same since Ed died,” she countered.
Giving up for the moment, I planted a kiss on her wrinkled brow and told her good-bye. Almost as an afterthought, I asked if there was ever a Christmas in her lifetime when she asked for something and didn’t receive it.
Her brow crinkled in thought. “I asked for a pony once, when I was a young girl. I never got it.”
In the days that followed, I tried to understand why I felt it important for her to have a Christmas tree. Having nothing at all in the house to remind her of Christmas seemed too sad and depressing.
Without a tree, there was no place to put her gifts, nothing to light up the corners of her dark house. I wanted to do something to brighten her life—to give back.
In my mind, I kept coming back to the pony. She might not want a tree this year but somewhere in her child-mind was a disappointed little girl longing for a pony. I felt a smile curl my lips as an idea took shape. This year the ancient little girl would have a surprise.
I needed reinforcements if my plan were to success. Everything would have to time out perfectly. Enlisted my father’s help, we designated Christmas Eve as the appointed time. Under cover of darkness, we implemented “Operation Pony.” My father visited with her in the living room while I stealthily, although not very quietly, maneuvered things into position in her dining room. To this day, I can’t believe she didn’t realize what was going on. I like to think she didn’t know.
Maybe she only pretended for my sake.
Later, as Dad helped her down the hall, I slid the plug into the socket. The warm glow of Christmas tree lights dispelled the gloomy darkness of the room. Beneath the tree were her gifts: a doll, a top, and a wooden pony on wheels. It might not be the pony of her dreams, but it was a pony all the same.
Early Christmas morning our phone rang. She never liked to talk on the phone, calling it the “instrument”, so I was surprised to hear her voice.
“I got my pony,” she said simply. “And a Christmas tree, too. Thank you.”
That little white-haired woman was my grandmother. My memories of her are as vivid and colorful as the beautiful patchwork quilts she made.
Her influence on my life is deep and abiding, a subtle infusion of quiet hours spent together. I don’t know if by genetics, or by example, but I know her greatest strengths lie within me. I’m glad she celebrated one of her last Christmases on earth with a tree, a pony, and the joy of knowing how much I loved her.