Grammy's Gift

Is there an activity that you do that really inspires you? Maybe it is a sport or a craft or a hobby that you can really get into and spend some quality time being you. A favorite activity for me is writing. I don’t know if you would call it a hobby or not, but it’s just something I enjoy.

A quote I heard recently when touring a college campus was “A lot of people have gone farther than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” I think this is very true in life and especially in the activities we do. While it’s nice to think that the Muse will strike us at anytime, the reality is, we tend to need coddling and inspiration from those around us.

For me, my passion for writing began when I was seven. The year was 2000. The day was Christmas. My brother and I were bulldozing through the presents under the tree enjoying every treat that Santa had brought for us. Of course there were things we were looking for. A toy train, a model air plane, maybe a bike or some cool new gadget, but I wasn’t looking for the writing gift.

One of the gifts I remember most vividly from that year was from my grandmother. It was an ornament in the shape of snowman holding a little blue top hat and a sign that read “Tip Your Hat To the Millennium.” I’m not sure that at the time I fully appreciated the gift but I do recall finding a hook and hanging it on the tree.

About a month passed. Come mid-January, we received a call. It was from my grandmother. She’d just been the doctor and it wasn’t good news. During Christmas when she’d been out visiting us, she kept complaining that the new mattress she had bought was causing her back pain. But when she went the doctor, she found out the mattress was fine. It was Grammy who was broken. She had a mass on her pancreas which turned out to be stage three pancreatic cancer. Her prognosis was not good and she would have to undergo extensive chemotherapy. My Grandmother has nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. She knew there were still weddings, graduations and other events she wanted to attend. And she was adamant that her doctors were going to fix her.

Come March, I was on Spring Break and had the chance to go to work with my Dad. I always liked going to work with my Dad, but sometimes I got a little bored. I usually took some markers or crayons to keep me occupied, but on this particular day I also took along the snowman ornament holding his brave little sign that read “Tip Your Hat To The Millennium.” As we drove around that day, I scrolled out in a rainbow of markers a short little story about the snowman and why he was holding his sign. I finished it around lunch time as my Dad and I were heading back to his office. I read it to him as we ate lunch and it gave him an idea.

My Dad picked up the phone off his desk and handed it to me. We called Grammy, who was just getting back from Chemotherapy, and I read her the story. When it was all over she told me, “Zachary, you truly have the writing gift.” I didn’t really know what it meant, or if it was true but I liked the way it sounded. The writing gift.

We would try to call Grammy every Sunday and every Sunday she would ask to hear “The Millennium Story” as it came to be known. I’d read it to her and she’d always laugh and chuckle. She constantly told me how much she loved it and how I should keep writing.

When I write, most of the time I just jot down notes and ideas. Occasionally, when I’m really inspired I’ll create a short little story of fiction. I like fiction. And I wish I could say this was a story of fiction. I wish it could have a story book ending. Something along the lines of how Grammy loved my story and each time I read it, it seemed to heal her. But in our “real” world, fictional, story book endings don’t seem to happen.

Grammy died July 28, 2001.

The last time I saw her was June 30th of that year. My Dad and I flew out to see her, and I showed her the hand written pages that held “The Millennium Story.” We read it several times while I was there. When it was time for me to leave, I hugged Grammy good-bye and smiled. She told me two things that I have always remembered: First, she said, “I love your smile! You have the greatest dimples.” Second she said, “You truly have the writing gift.”

And I remember that night, almost a month later. My Mom and I were lying in bed in Denver. Grammy was lying in bed in Tucson. She was surrounded family. At various points, they each stepped out of the room for a few minutes. And after they all left the room, Grammy left us.

The year 2000 was the beginning of a new millennium but the year 2001 was the beginning of my life without Grammy. Thanksgiving came and for the first time, we didn’t go to Grammy’s house. Christmas came and for the first time, Grammy didn’t come to our house. But that little snowman still hung on our tree. His sign still boldly proclaimed “Tip Your Hat to the Millennium.” Now, ten Thanksgivings and Christmases have passed. People have moved. Weddings have taken place. Grandchildren have been born. Our lives have changed. But Grammy hasn’t been here to see it. And in just over a month, I will graduate. Grammy won’t be there to celebrate with us.

But I truly believe that my grandmother has shaped my life in so many ways. Through her death, I found a relationship with Christ. Through the memories of her, I have a strong sense of family and tradition. And it was her inspiration that helped me discover my love for writing. The ornament she gave me, which might have seemed at the time like a simple gift, has opened a world for me. From writing devotions, to college essays, it was her guidance from the beginning that inspired me and her gift that was my earliest Muse.

Grammy may not be at the stadium on May 19th, but I am confident she will see me graduate.

We did a memorial for Grammy a year after she died. All of the extended family came out and we went up to a property that my family owns in the mountains. For the service we all wrote messages to Grammy and then tied them to balloons and sent them up into the sky.

I took a piece of paper. I found a pen. I picked out a balloon. But instead of writing a message, I sat down and copied “The Millennium Story.” I took it from a bunch of ratty note-book paper written with various markers to an official hand written manuscript. I gently fold the paper in half, then in fourths, then in eighths, then again. Once it fit inside the balloon, I filled it with helium, tied off, and sent my writing gift back to Grammy.

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