Friday, November 17, 2017

The Tin Box (Sub-title: my grandma is better than your grandma)

Monday's child is fair of face
Tuesday's child is full of grace
Wednesday's child is full of woe
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.


My church recently moved into a new building. It's been an exciting time for all of us. We're still working out a few kinks with the new joint and with the flow of our Sunday services. For example, there are approximately a hundred thousand light switches in the building and we're not sure what all of them do. We're afraid to flip some of them lest we inadvertently release the hounds of hell or something. (Oh, so that's what that switch was for!")

The church's stuff (chairs, piano, etc.) sat in storage from late 2016 until the spring of 2017. We still haven't found a few things, including tools. Our administrative assistant needed a screwdriver the other day and couldn't find one. Our mutual friend, Michael, offered to bring one in. He said, "I’ll bring an 'average' screwdriver. If we need an above or below average screwdriver, I’ll run home quick and get one." My friends are a clever lot.

All this talk about tools got me thinking about the supply of tools we have at our house. My husband inherited tools from his father, which is tragicomic because my guy doesn't fix stuff. We have lots of tools sitting in our basement, including below average and above average screwdrivers. My favorite tools, however, live in a decades-old tin.

When I went away to college nearly three decades ago, my grandmother gave me a gift right before I left. It was a square tin box that I imagine once held cookies. It was filled with things she thought I might need when I moved into the freshman dormitory at Texas A&M University in Galveston. She'd laid a patch of green felt at the bottom and then had filled the tin with a small hammer, a couple of screwdrivers, some nails and screws, and other sundry items that have been lost or forgotten over the years. I still have that tin and some of the original contents still reside within its slightly dented walls. 

The lid bears the words from a Danish proverb: "The road to the house of a friend is never long." The four sides each bear two verses of an old nursery rhyme. "Monday's child is fair of face . . . " I was born on a Saturday which, I'm sure we can all agree, is the very best day of the week. 

I've always loved the tin because it reminds me of my grandma. I'm hoping to pass the tin to my daughter when she leaves for college. It currently lives on a shelf in the basement, next to the dryer. And since at least one member of our family changes her clothes eight times a day, I am down there a lot. 

My grandmother is my stepdad's mom. I first met her when I was 9, after my original set of parents had split up. Elaine was kind and loving to me and my sister (our youngest sister wasn't born yet) right from the start. She never made any distinction between us and other family members who shared her DNA. I wish I could say the same for other relatives. My stepdad also had an aunt who was worried sick that my sister and I would try to use the family name (our last name remained the same as our father until we each got married). Elaine has always just been . . . my grandma. 

Elaine has many wonderful qualities - she is a skilled gardener and is one of those Christians who reads the bible and actually practices what Jesus taught. She's also fairly practical in nature. One year she got my mom bathroom rugs for Christmas, which went over about as well as you'd expect if you know my mother. We used to spend Christmas Eve at Elaine's house. We'd have a big dinner and then open gifts. To this day, I feel a bit wistful when Christmas Eve rolls around. Of course, we have our own traditions now with our little family of three, but sometimes I wish I was still that kid sitting by the tree at Elaine's house, waiting for wrapped gifts bearing my name to be slid across the carpet in my direction. 

When P and I got our first apartment, my grandmother was the first to donate a piece of furniture to us - an orange chair that we ended up keeping for years. After I embarked on the harrowing journey to parenthood, I sat down with her after my third or fourth miscarriage. Elaine has attended Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia since well before I was born. As a matter of fact, I found her photo on a page celebrating members of 50+ years. Back then, I was looking for some spiritual guidance and she answered the call. Whenever I visit "back home" in Northern Virginia, a trip to Elaine's house is always first on my agenda. Her health has become more precarious in recent years and hospital visits have become more frequent, so I call from time to time just to hear her voice and to check in on her. 

"I just wanted to see how you're feeling," I say.

"Well, aren't you just a doll?" she responds. Before we end the call, she always requests that I give her love to my daughter and husband. She always asks how we are doing and seems genuinely interested to know what we are up to. In nearly four decades, I've only heard my grandma speak ill of one (and only one) person. And even then it's only if you really press her on it. Let's just say that her ex-husband was not on her list of favorite people. He might have been on some other kind of list, though.

Elaine's birthday is coming up next week. For the past few years she's been purging things from her home so I know it's pointless to buy her knick-knacks she doesn't want or need. Instead, I send her a Kringle for her birthday just about every year because who doesn't like a Kringle? 

I hope she knows how much her love has meant to me for all these years. From the weekends spent at her house to visits to the five and dime to dinners at Anita's . . . I am so lucky to have such a wonderful person in my life. My mother's mom died when I was very young and I didn't see much of my father's mother after the divorce. Elaine has always filled the grandma role in the best of ways. 

It'll be just six short years before I turn the box o'tools over to my daughter (who was born on a Tuesday, by the way). I hope she'll appreciate it like I always have. You just never know when you'll need an average or even above average screwdriver. 




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