Written by Kristin Couch, blogger of The Palest Ink
Oh, how Christmas sparkled on Washington Street!
The chill of December, the snow piling high on my grandparents’ front porch, the twinkly lights fluttering as they lay draped against the decorated Fraser Fir which brushed up against the living room’s windowpanes.
My brother and I pushed open our grandparents’ wreathed door, silver bells jingling as we entered the front hall and into the living room warmed by the crackling fireplace. Conversations swirled as last-minute hubbub ensued. The scent of apple pie and the vision of multiple glass bowls overflowing with ribbon candy, mixed nuts, and pastel dinner mints whispered: tradition. The delight of Christmastime sent a shiver down my spine.
But the best part of Christmas on Washington Street?
Grandpa was a smartly dressed gentleman with a warm handshake and wide smile. He drew people into unscripted conversation, forever interested in others rather than himself.
People adored him, and I knew exactly why.
He was magnificent.
Grandpa’s love for my brother and me remained unrivaled. He honored our contrastive personalities with ease, understanding us well. Each December, Grandpa swept us into his Volvo, driving to his favorite spots: the ice cream parlor for a cone no matter what time of day, the Five-and-Ten to do a bit of Christmas shopping, and of course the toy store where we were invited to pick out a trinket. He was a “go big or go home” man, showing love in countless, tangible, and splendid ways.
As we cruised, he played gospel songs on his cassette tapes, crooning along. Never did he push against my reserved nature, but winsomely drew me out little by little, and I soon sang along. With Grandpa I felt cherished.
The final stop along our drive included the neighborhood hardware store. Grandpa chatted with the workers, and despite not having one handy bone in his body, rallied my brother and me with: “Let’s be sure to give the fellows some business!” –generously opening his wallet and returning home with another unnecessary tool, or extension cord, or come Christmas? Fresh light bulbs for the window candles.
Much to my grandmother’s chagrin.
These bulbs were, in fact, a sticking point in our family tree. As my brother has noted, they were the exact color of Campbell’s tomato soup—opaque and unattractive. As classy and gracious as Grandpa was, when he made up his mind about something?
So be it.
These bulbs were one shining example.
The family grew accustomed to the color as the years unfolded, accepting this uncomfortable quirk, which was glaringly obvious to every commuter passing by on bustling Washington Street.
Even now I feel a lump in my throat when I remember returning home from college one Christmas—the first Christmas without Grandpa.
My ride pulled into the driveway late that frigid December night following a harrowing nineteen-hour drive through snow storms and black ice. As I emerged from the car, blowing warmth into my cupped and frozen hands, my backpack pulling heavy upon my shoulder, I was shattered to see white lights glowing through every frosty windowpane. As soft and exquisite as they were, such decorations were a throbbing reminder that my grandfather was gone.
Tears sprang up and I looked away, crushed.
The years have taken wing, and now my own grandson is two. I revel in his laughter and his antics, as I squeeze him tight, kissing his shampooed head and telling him I love him. The memories of Grandpa’s love circle around my head, a majestic symphony, exhaling. God is the Maestro, urging the strings and woodwinds to life, a background song rising steady and lovely and true. Grandpa died over thirty years ago, but his music rises, still.
His lavish love endures—a tender swell for God, for family, for common hardware store workers, and even for those quirky orange bulbs. Grandpa was confident and poised, knowing who God created him to be, while also embracing that he was a sinner redeemed by the grace and kindness of God.
Of course, I will never be a clone of my grandfather– purchasing tomato soup bulbs, traipsing through hardware stores to buy something I do not need. It is not in my nature to shake hands and chat with anyone and everyone while juggling a wildly flourishing sales career.
That was Grandpa’s realm–not mine.
Yet like him, I will seek to fan the flame of my adoration for the Lord…pouring over Scripture, sharing Christ in my small writing endeavors, and abiding in devotion to God. I pray that this lavish love will overflow and warm my grandchildren, too.
Grandpa modeled an important truth for me: sturdy love means generosity of time in unhurried doses, a heart of selflessness laced with unmistakable acts of warmth, kindness, and understanding. A “you first before me” type of love. There was nothing iffy about his commitment to my brother and me. We were never forced to wonder whether Grandpa was for us.
We knew, down deep in the crevices of our small frames, that we were most loved.
Now, it is my honor to carry this grandparenting torch to the next generation.
May I buy my grandchildren sprinkled ice cream cones just because, and splurge on Christmas decorations for their sake. May I happily read one more book, sing one more lullaby, and be the Nonnie who plays trucks and blocks and Legos and stuffed animals on the floor, building blanket forts in our living room as the rest of the world melts away.
May my grandchildren revel in our family traditions—Mud Pie, White Christmas, Buckeyes, and bulging Christmas stockings. May they one day skip along on our Christmas Day Walk and later grin over the day’s treasures as they nestle beneath warm comforters and drift off to sleep in our soft guest beds. May they have tender hearts and ears to hear me speak naturally and happily as I make much of our God.
May they feel the Lord’s love warming their Nonnie who listens and understands and protects and sings and laughs and prays and holds them close, always and no matter what.
May my fervor for Christ spill over and tug at my sweet grandson’s heart this Christmas. May he love God most, as I bow daily on his behalf.
Thank you, Grandpa. You were a shadow of Christ to my young, impressionable heart, choosing to be an always-and-forever-without-end grandparent, rather than a confusing puzzle to be sorted and solved.
“They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” – Psalm 92:14
“All heroes are shadows of Christ.” – Pastor John Piper
This article appeared first on The Palest Ink https://the-palest-ink.com/ where you can check out other writings.
Kristin Elizabeth Couch is a pastor’s wife, the mother of four grown children, and a grandmother. She graduated from Taylor University in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Writing and has written for Desiring God, SBC of Virginia’s Proclaimer, SBC of Virginia’s Written, and has also been a featured guest on Moody Radio’s Kurt and Kate Mornings. Kristin recently published her first book, It Began on Washington Street – Tracing the Goodness of God Through All of Life, a work dedicated to her grandfather. Her second book will be available in the spring of 2024. Kristin publishes her stories weekly at The Palest Ink.