Nancy Ellen Hird

I didn’t see my grandmother that Christmas. I didn’t want to see her. My life was in chaos. I was in trouble everywhere I looked. My longtime boyfriend and I were fighting. Were we breaking up? The money I had worked for and saved to live on while I attended graduate school had done a vanishing act. Could I work part-time and still student teach? And what about teaching? I had always loved school, but being a good student and being a good teacher were, I was discovering, not the same. Was I cut out to handle the crowd control? The paper work? What if I wasn’t? There were too many questions that I kept pushing away. Too many answers that lived someplace else.

Grandma wouldn’t have pried, but she read me like her sheet music. No twenty-four-year old bravado would have fooled her. She would have seen that something was very wrong with me. She would have caught it in my walk, the tilt of my head, my voice and my eyes. And when she did, I feared that I would crumple with shame. At least, that was what my pride told me. So when my family visited her and my grandfather at Christmas, I arranged to be elsewhere.

She had a gift for me though. My mother brought it by my apartment a week later. Taking the soft, gaily-wrapped bundle in my hands, I felt guilty. For a few seconds. Then like a little kid I dug in. Pulling at the red ribbon, tearing back the white tissue, I hardly breathed as I imagined what delightful thing I would find. And there … and there … was a pair of flannel pajamas.

True, they were pink and had lace around the collar, but they were still pajamas. I turned them over, opened them up, hoping–expecting–that she had tucked in a locket or a small book of poems or something equally special. But no, there were only the pajamas. I was stunned.

“Is something wrong?” my mother asked. “Are they the wrong size?”

Numbly I checked the label. The size was correct. I looked at my mother and forced a smile. “They’re fine,” I said, but my mind couldn’t comprehend it. Pajamas from a woman who in my childhood had made me hand-sewn doll clothes? Costumes, they had been really– opulent, magnificent costumes of taffetas and chiffons and trimmed with tiny sequins, bits of lace and fake fur. And now pajamas? Only last Christmas she had given me cross-stitched potholders and pillowcases for my hope chest. But this year she gave me store-bought pajamas! Wasn’t that the kind of sensible gift someone gave a child that she didn’t know very well?

I tried to shrug it off. I told myself my grandmother was getting old, that she didn’t have the energy to make me a special present. I told myself that maybe her budget this year was tight, that she didn’t have the money. I didn’t whisper that maybe she didn’t love me as much, was probably angry with me because I hadn’t spent much time with her lately. I didn’t put all that into words. I didn’t have to. The feelings cut like razors. For a moment, I considered tossing the pajamas, but then reasoned that a graduate student, especially a nearly penniless one, couldn’t afford to be so cavalier. I dropped the pajamas on top of my foot locker and forgot about them.

I didn’t notice the pajamas again for weeks–not until that night in early February. It was about seven in the evening and I was going out. As I reached for the light switch on the bedroom wall, I glanced back. Suddenly I saw them, pink and cuddly, poking out from beneath a pile of sweaters and books. I have to write Grandma, I thought. I have to thank her. After all, she bought them for me and it’s rude not to thank her. Tomorrow. I will do it tomorrow, I promised.

But tomorrow didn’t come. That afternoon my grandmother had had a stroke and lay dying in a nearby hospital. I was grief-stricken when I heard of her death later that evening. When I noticed the pajamas, I buried them at the bottom of a drawer. They stayed there for months.

In the years that followed I sometimes pondered grandma’s gift of the pajamas. When I became a Christian, I lay my confusion and hurt in God’s loving hands. I forgave myself for not visiting her and for not thanking her for her gift. God wanted me to and she would have wanted me to. I let God heal my wounded feelings, realizing that I had jumped to stupid conclusions. She had loved me. It was my neediness that had made me doubt it. But still I sometimes wondered about her last gift. The pajamas still seemed like such an odd choice, out of character for her.

The season changed yesterday. Definitely an October morning. I felt it when I threw back the covers. The sun was bright and the sky blue jay blue, but the air had a bite to it. I shivered into my bathrobe. Winter was coming on. I needed to get to the Mall and buy this year’s long underwear.

In the department store I threaded my way through racks of hanging lingerie and passed a table piled high with pajamas. I stopped and turning back, I took in the colors–pastel prints and bold plaids. I fingered the soft, warm flannel and thought of my daughter. She was at college not more than 40 minutes away, but she was 40 minutes away and winter was coming on. I thought of how I longed to keep her warm and safe. Then I remembered her life with all its questions and conflicts. Oh, how I wanted to wrap my arms around her, letting her know that I loved her, believed in her and wanted all that was best for her. My breath caught. Just … just as my ….

“Oh, God,” I whispered, tears filling my eyes. “I understand Grandma’s gift. I see now what she was giving me. Thank you.” The tears slid down my cheeks. I didn’t brush them away. Instead, full of love, I chose a pair of pajamas for my daughter. And then in honor of my grandmother’s love, I chose a pink-striped pair for me.