When I was younger it was tradition to have Christmas Eve at my grandma’s house.
My aunts, uncles and cousins would crowd her modest Independence home across from the old Lipton Tea Factory. I can still picture her artificial white Christmas tree in the corner of the dining room. She used to set out a little ceramic town in the sitting room, complete with fake snow.
There was plenty of food, including loads of Italian cookies my beloved step-Grandpa Johnny used to make. Sometimes Grandma Jan would go through her treasures in her jewelry box and give pieces away to her daughters and granddaughters. I was lucky enough to receive a special pair of diamond earrings I wore on my wedding day. She’d say: “I’m getting old; what do I need this for? I’m passing it down to my blood.”
A few years ago Grandma moved to Texas to live with my uncle who had agreed to help take care of her.
The longstanding Christmas Eve tradition was gone. The family hasn’t gotten together in over six years.
This year my grandma was diagnosed with cancer.
My aunt and uncle in Texas thought we should all get together for the holidays, including all the great-grandchildren, for a total of around 50 people.
Well, we could rent a hall, or maybe even gather in a church basement. The problem is there would be no Christmas tree nor cozy stockings hanging over a fireplace.
Yours truly volunteered our home for what might be my grandma’s last Christmas.
If everyone shows, and if Grandma is well enough to travel, my family will be packed in our home like sardines, bringing a new meaning to a “close” family.
To relieve some of the overcrowding, my husband and I decided to finish our basement with a deadline of Christmas Eve.
We’ve always chatted about that project, mostly for resale value, but a time frame of less than two months means a lot of late nights, a little bit of bickering and, of course, Taco Bell.
Thankfully I’m married to a very handy third-generation union construction man who specializes in plumbing and can also frame walls and put up drywall. After my failed attempt at driving a single nail into a piece of wood, my husband told me to go back upstairs.
I’m not sure we’ll make our deadline, but I don’t think any of my cousins will care that the basement walls aren’t fully painted, as long as we’re all together again in Kansas City.
Every time my husband comes crawling into bed around 2 a.m. I know he’s thinking about my grandma.
You can’t compare a few hours of sleep with someone sick with cancer.
There won’t be a white Christmas tree, or Johnny’s Italian cookies, but this Christmas Eve will definitely be one to remember, 60 spicy tostadas later.