A Christmas Story
November 23, 2000
“Is he alright?”
“Yes, Jennifer, he—he’ll be alright.”
“Mama, why are you crying?”
Mama only shook her head, dabbed her eyes with her hanky, and silently cried to herself. I watched her huddle in her chair, her quiet sobbing heard throughout the waiting room, her tears glistened against her cheeks.
I shook my head as a sudden thought appeared in my head. Grampa…he can’t…no, he’ll be fine! Jesus wouldn’t let him…no, Grampa will be fine!
My vision suddenly went blurry. I tried to blink the tears away, but it just made my vision worse. I rubbed my eyes, hiccupping as I held my sobbing back. It wasn’t true! Grampa was fine! I’ll walk into that room, say hi to Grampa as if the heart attack never happened, and he’ll give me a kiss on the cheek and will start singing that song he always sang: “Jennifer Juniper.”
But my thoughts only made my sobs harder to hold back, tears flooded my eyes. I rubbed my eyes frantically, but my mother gently took hold of my wrist. I looked up at her and she wiped my eyes with a clean tissue. She gave me a watery smile and said so quietly, I almost missed it, “It’ll be alright.”
“Of course it will,” I blurted over my hiccup. “Jesus is with him! Grampa will be just fine ‘cause Jesus would never leave Grampa!”
My mother only smiled and hugged me as she sobbed. “Oh, you’re so brave,” she said quietly. We held each other close; I felt myself start to cry some more. I dug my face into her shoulder as tears started streaming down my cheeks. She softly rubbed my back, whispering, “It’s alright,” which only made matters worse.
Grampa will be fine! I know he will!
My mother and I let go and we looked up at the nurse standing in the doorway, looking gently upon us. My dad suddenly stood up, towering over everyone else. He wasn’t crying. In fact, he looked as if nothing was wrong. I admired my dad. Why did I have to be cursed with these girly tears? Wh-why?
“Johnny Masters,” said another tall man a few seats down from my dad. My Uncle Johnny also held back whatever emotion he felt. They both looked blank, as if they wanted to get this over with and cry in their own time. I couldn’t very well see through my blurry eyes, but I saw his arm move up and his voice sound, “This is my brother, Jeremy Masters, his wife, and daughter.”
“If you will follow me,” the nurse said quietly.
I felt my mother move underneath me. She stood up in front of me. “Come on,” she said, holding out an arm to put around my shoulders. I stood and accepted her embrace. We followed my dad and Uncle Johnny out of the waiting room. I felt eyes follow our every step, watching us leave the room. Their eyes were distant, however. I didn’t care about the other people. I wanted my Grampa.
My dad talked quietly with the nurse, Uncle Johnny right behind, listening closely. My mother held me close by, her fingers digging into my arm, as if
I was going to leave her life forever.
My dad and Uncle Johnny fell silent suddenly. No one spoke as we walked down the hall. I didn’t like the silence. I didn’t like it in the least. Walking down that hall was like talking in front of the class. It was like fifty pounds was added to my backpack. I felt heavy, my feet dragged, my hands clenched my mother’s jacket. Why was I so nervous? I shouldn’t be nervous! Grampa was alright! Jesus was with him!
Then a most horrifying thought came to mind. “What if Grampa forgot about Jesus?” I whispered frantically to my mother. I felt the nurse’s eyes flick back to us, but I ignored her. I had to know! Would Grampa be saved? He never really went to church, but when he did, he never complained!
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” my mother whispered a moment later. “Only God knows what he’s thinking.”
I shook my head, knocking some sense into me. Grampa’s fine! He’s not…he’s fine! I felt myself tear up some more. I wiped my hand across my eyes. I won’t cry! I’m just like Dad! I can handle this!
“Here we are, Mr. Masters,” the nurse said gently as she opened a door. I couldn’t really see, I didn’t notice what the room looked like, didn’t notice the delicious hospital food sitting in the corner. All I saw was Grampa.
He looked scary, so scary I wanted to run. My heart raced painfully at the sight of him. His eyes were closed, his hands lay limply at his sides. His face was ghostly white, almost as white as the sheets on the bed. I felt myself clench my mother’s jacket even harder. I was afraid to even go near this strange man. This wasn’t Grampa! Grampa would never scare me like this! It was only a coincidence that this man’s jacket had the exact same friendship bracelet I made him clinging to his jacket’s zipper. There could be other people with that same odd birthmark on his arm, the one shaped like Minnesota, our home…
I ran to my Grampa’s side, tears streaming down my face. Grampa! I collapsed on the char, my head falling on my hands atop the bed. I cried like I never cried before. My heart raced frantically, my sobbing and hiccupping quickened, tears flooded my eyes and cheeks. Something could brush my arm or bite my foot off and I wouldn’t notice a thing. I wanted Grampa…
I felt something brush my arm, a something that was as soft and gentle as a feather.
“Hey,” said a meek voice, a voice so soft, so quiet, I couldn’t hear it over my crying. “Hey,” it said again and my sobbing ceased. I looked up at the voice, the voice I only knew so well.
Grampa looked at me through half-closed eyes, that familiar sparkle in his eye. He grabbed my small hand in his big one. I felt myself stand up from my chair. My knees wobbled under my weight. I caught myself from falling, landing on my hand atop the bed. I regret falling, knowing full well it would’ve felt uncomfortable for my Grampa, but he said nothing, my dad didn’t criticize me for messing up again, my mother didn’t help me to my feet. It was just me and Grampa.
He didn’t speak, but his welcoming gaze told me everything. I leaned over and felt his whiskers tickle my cheek as he kissed me. That kiss started another wave of tears. It was so weak, yet filled with the most love I have ever known he had through his kisses. I felt my heart beat in my ears. No one had to tell me what was happening, not even Jesus.
“You’ll—” Grampa’s weak voice sounded. It was a soft whisper. I remained leaning over to him to hear what he had to say, though it was difficult to hear over the beating of my heart. Grampa’s twinkle in his eyes helped me through the translation, though. “You’ll always be my Jennifer Juniper.”
I felt his weak grasp loosen and start to fall. “No,” I managed to say, quickly grabbing his hand tightly in both of mine. “No, don’t leave me,” I said, looking frantically to my Grampa.
Then I heard his voice again, more audibly than before. I felt my parents and uncle freeze at the sound of Grampa’s voice, the tension in the room built as we hear my Grampa speak to no one in particular.
“Vater Unser, der Du bist im Himmel. Geheiligt werde Dein Name. Dein Reich Komme, Dein Wille geschehe, wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden. Unser taglich Brot gib uns heute. Und vergeben unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unseren Schuldigen. Und fuhre uns nicht in Versuchung. Sondern erlose uns von dem Ubel. Denn Dein ist das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit. Amen.”
My mother gasped at the strange words my Grampa spoke. However, I didn’t look to my mother for her to tell me what it was. My Grampa smiled weakly again, his half-closed eyes brightened, staring up into nothing but the ceiling. However, he saw more than I could see in those billions of dots on the ceiling tiles.
“I see my Father,” he whispered. My heart raced. I knew he didn’t mean great-grampa. He meant God. My heart leapt at those words. My Grampa may not be with me, but he was with Jesus, and I was happy for him, so happy in fact, I started crying again. I felt myself fall on the chair, dig my face in my arm, and start crying again.
It was the Lord’s Prayer! I thought to myself as I cried the hardest I ever cried. He said the Lord’s Prayer in German! Oh, Grampa! You did remember! Now you’re in Heaven! With Jesus!
And yet, I was depressed. I didn’t want to leave my Grampa. Leaving Grampa would mean leaving my best friend. My dad took my arm gently and forced me to my feet. “Let’s go, kiddo,” he muttered. For the first time in all my life, my dad put his arm around my shoulders and held me close as we walked away. It only made me cry harder.
“Good bye, Grampa,” I whispered as we left death’s chambers.
December 25, 2000 – Christmas Day
I sat silently on the floor next to my Grampa’s rocking chair. My eyes looked longingly at the empty seat, hoping for hope my Grampa would suddenly appear there and start singing “Jennifer Juniper” as if nothing was ever wrong.
But everything was wrong.
Here I sat in my Uncle Johnny’s house with my mother and dad, ready to open presents for our holiday celebration; just the four of us…how empty the room felt. My Uncle Johnny’s girlfriend, Beth, came over to celebrate with us, to keep the party going. It wasn’t the same as having my Grampa.
I started handing out presents to everyone, one by one, unwrapping and unwrapping. I was happy to see my gifts containing GameBoy Advance and a couple Mario games. That would certainly be something to do on the way home to Missouri after a Christmas celebration with family in Minnesota. Then I saw a gift that made my heart leap.
Jennifer Juniper with much love, Grampa.
My hands started to shake, my mouth dropped open. I heard my mom question my hesitation with worry, my dad zoom in with the camera to get a better view of the brown box in my hands. Uncle Johnny seemed to know what was happening, however. He stood up and knelt down by my side, putting his arm around me as I gaped at the box. “That is your Christmas present from Grampa. He meant to give it to you himself, but…well, we know what happened.”
I looked up at my uncle with teary eyes then back to the box. It meant so much to me that Grampa wrapped a present for me before Thanksgiving, so much that I didn’t want to open the very tape he put on the flaps himself. It was too precious. With a comment from my dad (“I’m running out of tape, here!”) I pulled off the tape with all my strength and opened the flaps. I pulled out a cube of Styrofoam. I knew immediately what it was, for I had a whole collection back home in Saint Louis.
I removed the Styrofoam to reveal a snow globe, a most beautiful one in my eyes. It had a church inside, fake snow covering the ground. I shook it up and watched the snow fall down, but as I shook it, I saw something on the bottom. It was a music globe. I twisted the little dial and listened to it sing “Joy to the World.” Tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched the snow fall.
Grampa, I miss you so much!
You will always be my Jennifer Juniper…