This Christmas will be my first one without my Grandpa Paul, the father of my mother and the only grandfather I grew up knowing; he was the head of our family. Every year family members, although scattered across the world, would gather together. The meeting place? Grandma and Grandpa’s log cabin. Nestled on 5 acres of Midwestern wooded land, we’d line up our parked cars and haul in our wrapped gifts. By the time everything was placed ‘under’ the tree, there was a mountain of sparkling curiosities, teasing us all through dinner. Dinner! HA! Dinner was always late! I say this with the kind of love only nostalgia can invoke.
Grandma and Grandpa were focused on kitchen activities while their kids, grandkids, and great grand babies were playing, talking, and sneaking a bite in here and there while we waited for the proverbial dinner bell to ring. We’d finally sit down to the magnificent, long awaited feast around 8 or 9pm and Grandpa would say grace. He had the same prayer for every family meal and we all knew it by heart. The part that always stood out to me was “Lord God in Heaven, we thank you for everything we’re about to receive and everything we’ve already received, we thank you for this abundance of fine food and we ask you to please bless it all to our bodies.” After the prayer, we’d all say ‘amen’ and start shoveling down the food we’d put on our plates. Clanking, laughter, and ‘pass the butter’ was the music of that table. Accolades were sent to grandma and grandpa for the banquet, but especially to grandpa who was the unofficial chef of the house. After we’d all gott’n 2nds and left mostly-eatn dessert on our plates there was a quick clean up and then PRESENTS! One of the grandkids was assigned the task of ‘Santa’ and they’d pull out one gift at a time, bring it to the person who it belonged to, and we’d all watch them unwrap it. One. at. a. time. Santa’s job was to make sure everyone got a present before we started the circle all over again. It took HOURS! Grandpa was notorious for taking the longest to unwrap his gifts. He’d take out his pocket knife and painstakingly slice each piece of tape, unfold each crease of wrapping paper, and gently fold the paper once it was off. You would think he was going to keep the paper, but you’d be wrong! His only resolve was to torture us. And it worked! “Papa, Papa, hurry up!” and “ohhh my gosh, how does he DO this to us every time?” Hahaha, it was tradition. After all the presents were unwrapped and stacked in their ‘family’ piles to take home, we’d pick up the tornado of wrapping paper pieces strewn across the room. Then came the moment we’d all been waiting for. The best Christmas Tradition our Grandpa had ever conjured: Attic Surprise.
The attic in our Grandparent’s home was actually just a tiny loft that overlooked the living room. It was accessed by an attic style ladder. He’d climb up there and open an ancient chest (or so I imagine, being as I never actually saw what held his Christmas bounty) and while he was doing that, someone would pass out numbers to everyone in the room. Depending on the year, sometimes we all got 2 number-tags! Grandpa had already placed numbers on the loot and whatever prize your number matched with, that’s what you got! He would call down the numbers from his perch and we’d yet out an excited, “Me!” and he’d toss down your novelty from where he was seated, his legs dangling off the loft ledge. You better be a good catch! Sometimes it was a mug, sometimes a pocket knife or a flashlight. They were just random things he’d purchased as he did his everyday shopping throughout the year. The PRIZE possession you’d be hoping he’d pitch from the attic when your number was called... was SOCKS. Grandpa had a stash of thick, woolen socks that were everyone’s envy if you were one of the lucky ones that got them. After all the numbers were called and everyone had their Attic Surprise, we could trade our items if we wanted. We’d negotiate our trades with those who had the more desirable than our own. That was an event in and of itself! One thing was certain, those who left with Grandpa’s woolen socks that year were the real winners.
~ in loving memory of “Papa” Grandpa Paul