My grandpa loved Christmas. I think it was probably because it was the one time of the year that he would see all of us; daughters and son-in-laws, granddaughters and grandsons, and more recently a pair of great-grand children. Every year, for as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve meant going to Grandpa’s house. It was his day. We would all pile into his little house, and as we grew it seemed to get smaller and smaller, only because we kept getting bigger and bigger, and we were multiplying; getting married, having kids. For a long stretch we always ate pizza. I have no idea what started us eating pizza every year, but that is what Grandpa bought. And oh, did he buy pizza. It always seemed like each family took home their own pizza as leftovers. That’s okay, I love pizza, and pizza leftovers are the best.
The gifts were the best though. Not so much for us kids. We always got our savings bond for college savings (thanks Grandpa). It was what the guys were going to get. More specifically, because they always got the same thing, what was on that gift. Every year my dad and the uncles got a copy of “Claude and Ruth’s Favorites” on a mixed tape. I think Grandpa and Ruth were the only ones who loved those songs, well, and my dad. He would play those tapes and think they were the greatest. At some point the tapes had to stop though, probably because no one listened to tapes any more, and they ran out of songs from whatever decade they found their favorites from.
After we ate our pizza and opened our gifts, we’d sit around playing with whatever toy the little cousins got that year, or playing Christmas trivia games. No matter what we did there was always a lot of joy in that house. Grandpa ate it up.
My Grandpa peacefully passed away last night. And it might seem strange to find joy in death, but I think Grandpa would have wanted it that way. He has been fighting for years, decades, against heart disease. And unknowingly fighting cancer as well. I find joy in the fact that he didn’t have to live with the knowledge that cancer was taking over his body. I find joy that he doesn’t have to fight any more, doesn’t have to live on oxygen, doesn’t have to struggle through his three days of physical therapy every week (yes, the man was putting us all to shame with his workouts). I find joy and peace in knowing that his daughters were able to be with him, to say goodbye, and to tell him, even though he already knew, how much we love him.
I find joy because he found joy in all of us. In watching his daughters grow up to be successful, to have families of their own. To support and find pride in me as I went to college and graduated, and he will watch the rest do the same. I find joy that I got to dance with him at my wedding, and joy in introducing my son to him last Christmas. He found joy and was proud to serve his country in the Navy, serving in the Korean War. And he passed that pride on to all of us by having a flag flown in our name over the capital. He even had a flag flown for James just a few months ago.
Grandpa’s death has helped me to find the joy in Christmas this year. Isn’t that what the birth of Jesus is supposed to be all about? That He was born so that we could know everlasting life with Him, our God.
This year on Christmas Eve Chris, James and I will be celebrating by ourselves for the first time. And I know what we’ll be eating…pizza.
Claude E. Smoot