Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dear Grandmother

I have been honored to deliver eulogies at the funerals for several close relatives, including my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother.  My dad's father passed away several years before I was born, and for reasons I won't get into, I did not speak at my Grandmother Canupp's funeral. 

I have regretted it ever since.  I am sorry these words are eight years late.

Dear Grandmother,

I miss you so much every day, but I miss you most at Christmas time.  Especially Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve was always our day.  Our entire family gathered at your house for our annual celebration.  But luckily I grew up within walking distance of your house, so I was always the first to arrive (and the last to leave.)  I just loved every part of that day with you and granddaddy, and I wanted it to last as long as possible.

I loved helping granddaddy bring in wood for the fire we would build, or serving as your unofficial food taster, or as I got older, driving to the store for last minute purchases.  I treasure the memories of the planning of those days as much as the actual parties.

There was one unplanned tradition that dominated my childhood.  I would get so excited about Christmas and food and presents, that I would literally throw up at some point during our Christmas Eve party.  This happened every year.  Until I was 11 or 12 (In an effort to stop the embarrassment, I finally decided to avoid food for 24 hours before the party.  I wound up passing out and falling down a flight of stairs.  But, next play, as they say.  Keep pounding.)

The rest of the family would always make sure I was OK and then (rightfully) enjoy a few laughs at my expense.  But grandmother, you always knew the right thing to say to make me feel better: "Santa Claus is coming. I don't know why everybody isn't throwing up."

Christmas was and remains my favorite time of year, but the truth is, every day was special with you grandmother.  I was lucky that I got to see you almost every day growing up.  I don't know how I was able to stay so skinny as a child, because a lot of days I had two dinners- at our house and yours.

In fact, everyone who knew you grandmother, will remember just hard it was to leave your house without eating or at the very least taking a plate for the road. It was next to impossible, whether you were hungry or not.  It almost became like a battle of wills.  But grandmother, you were going to win. Actually, everybody won.

Everybody thinks their grandmother is the best cook in the world.  But they are wrong.  Because you were, grandmother.  From the dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to the biscuits that were made from scratch virtually every day and so much more.  And it was all delicious.  (I have to admit that fried squash was not my favorite, but yours was better than any other I've ever had.)

And grandmother, you were responsible for the single best meal I ever had: country fried steak after my high school graduation.  I can still remember being in your kitchen that night, thinking this was as good as it gets.

But grandmother, any time spent with you was automatically more special.  Our family vacations at the beach were always fun, but were off the charts when and you and granddaddy were there.  My favorite little league games were when I saw you in the crowd.  And I am so, so thankful that you and "Ma" Griffin were both able to be in Boone when I received my college diploma.

Everybody who knew you knew how much you loved the Lord.  It was powerful, and it was genuine.  And I have never known a better example of what a true Christian should be than you and granddaddy.

My favorite days in church were when I sat beside you and granddaddy.  (Actually, my very favorite days were when I sat beside you while granddaddy delivered a sermon.)  I remember you always had the little peppermint hard candies in your purse.  We would try to unwrap them as quietly as possible, then try not to laugh when we would inadvertently make too much noise.

I worked for nearly 20 years as a sports broadcaster and, whether you realize it or not, you and granddaddy had a profound influence on my career path.  Granddaddy was the biggest baseball fan I ever knew and I loved to watch games with him.  I spent nearly every Monday night of the summer at your house watching "Monday Night Baseball" (back when baseball on TV was a true event).  I also read the sports page at your house nearly every day, and you gave me my first subscription to "Sports Illustrated".

I'm sure you thought that, if anything, I could possibly write about sports some day.  I am certain that the thought of that quiet, shy kid talking about sports for a living never entered your mind.  But I loved seeing the videos of you "watching" me on the radio.  I always knew that you were proud of me.  I hope you know how much you inspired me.

There are so many more memories that spring to mind when I think of you, grandmother.  All good.  All special.  Just like you.

But you gave me my most special Christmas memory of all time, at your last Christmas on this Earth in 2007.  Alzheimer's had ravaged your memory, and I wasn't sure if you had recognized me for quite some time.  But when I walked into the nursing home to see you that day, you lit up and said "Shea Boy", the name you called me as a child.  It's a moment that still give me chills.

This Christmas Eve, as has been the case for the last few years, finds Kim and me 3,000 miles away from most of our friends and family.  I really wish you could have known Kim, grandmother.  I think the two of you would have been thick as thieves.  She had this photo of you and granddaddy printed on a canvas and framed and gave it to me for Christmas several years ago.

I just hope you knew how much I truly loved you.  And still love you.  Always.  Merry Christmas.

Actually, Merry Christmas Eve.

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