82: Green Pickle Christmas

82: Green Pickle Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Green Pickle Christmas

A child needs a grandparent, anybody’s grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world.

~Charles and Ann Morse

It was three weeks before Christmas and I was mixing a batch of snicker doodle cookies, when the “Movin’ Train” ringtone on my cell phone let me know that Alexandria, my nineteen-year-old granddaughter, had sent a text message. She and her younger sisters, Mary and Victoria, were driving in from out of state and had been expected an hour earlier. Praying that nothing was wrong, I read the message.

“Gma b there at 7. bad traffic. bff with us. hide pickle. lol. ily.”

Chuckling, my eyes focused on the refrigerator door to examine the cheat sheet of text codes. For me, texting was like a foreign language, so Alex had made the decipher list when the family sent me an iPhone as an early Christmas present. It did everything but read to me. All the strange icons and abbreviations on the screen made me nervous, but I knew I’d lose out if I didn’t accept the challenge of a new way to communicate with them in their fast, high-tech world.

A pleasant feeling gripped me when I found “ily” on the list and whispered, “I love you. Awww! It’s been too long since I’ve heard that.”

Reading the message again, I snickered at their new name for me — Gma. What started out when they were babies as Ga-Ga had evolved over the years to Gammy, Grams, Gramcracker, and Grandma.

The clock above the refrigerator read six o’clock. I plowed through the storage boxes to find the item that had been a part of our Christmas tradition for many years. From a black velvet bag, I slid the dark green glass ornament shaped like a small whole pickle. In the living room, the festively decorated long-needle pine filled the house with fragrance. Peeking between the boughs, I found the perfect hiding place and clapped my hands together at the thought of playing our game again. “There, it blends in so well on this tree compared to my old artificial one. I can’t believe it’s been two years since we did this.”

My daughter was a single mother who had to work long hours to support her kids, so the girls grew up with very little. The original German legend on the card that came with the pickle said that the child who finds it on Christmas morning gets an extra present. These girls had needed something more positive, so I changed the rules. In a basket, I put little brown paper grab bags of inexpensive fun things that I knew they would like — things that I’d shop for throughout the year. Included in each bag were handmade coupons that allowed each one to spend time with me — trips to a museum, the beach, concerts, or picnics. Also, each bag contained a one-, five-, or ten-dollar bill.

Our game was played almost a month before Christmas. The one who found the pickle selected a bag, then hid it again until all the bags were gone. The next day we all headed to the mall to choose a child from the Salvation Army Angel Tree. According to the rules, each girl had the option to use all or part of the money to buy what the child listed.

“Now, what will I do for grab bags?” My fingers snapped as an idea formed.

Forty-five minutes later I heard, “Grandma, we’re here.” Mary, the middle child who always wanted to be first, hurried to hug me. “Oh, it smells so good!” She grinned and reached for a cookie.

“Not yet.” I gently slapped her hand.

Alex and Vicky came for their hugs and then motioned to the teenager who was hanging back. With a welcoming smile, I hugged her. “Hi, you must be BFF.”

Her eyes narrowed with confusion as she shook her head. The girls looked at each other and shrugged. Alex’s eyes widened and she bent over with laughter before she caught her breath and said, “No, Grandma, ‘bff’ means ‘best friends forever.’ This is my friend, Tori.”

Joining their laughter, I said, “Put your things in the guest bedroom. Someone can sleep on the sofa.”

“Sleep? Isn’t this a party?” Vicky said. “Did you hide the pickle?”

I set out hot, spiced cider, little finger sandwiches, snacks, and a pile of cookies on the table. Mary looked around. “Where are the bags?”

“We’re playing it differently this year,” I said. “The one who finds the pickle gets a cookie.”

Groans drowned out the Christmas music playing in the background. Alex asked, “We’re not going to do the Angel Tree?”

Tori’s face lit up. “Angel Tree?”

“Oh, no,” Mary said. “Why not?”

I put my hand up to signal “stop” and adopted a mysterious tone. “I’ll give you a hint. Be very careful when you eat your prize.” My hands rubbed together as I cackled like an old witch.

All four girls rushed to the tree, giggling and pushing. In less than three minutes, Vicky squealed, “I’ve got it!” She did a winner’s dance and grabbed a cookie to hold in the air like it was a gold medal. Biting off half, she chewed, yelped, and spit into her hand.

Mary stepped over to look. “Yuck. What’s that?” Her nose wrinkled.

“I told you to be careful when you eat.” I pulled a dime from the mess in her palm. “In each cookie is a penny or dime. I was afraid a nickel would be too heavy. For each coin I’ll give you one or ten dollars to go toward our angel.”

Tori gasped and covered her mouth. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she asked, “You play this for Angel Tree money?”

“Are you okay?” I put my hand on her shoulder.

“It’s just...” her head tilted back to look at the ceiling. “My dad does the Angel Tree. He said it’s because someone did it for my brothers and me five years ago when he couldn’t work while he was taking care of Mom before she died. He says he’ll never forget the happy look on Mom’s face when we woke up with presents even though we didn’t have a tree.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Alex sounded hurt.

Tori shrugged. “We were just starting to hang out then.”

Alex hugged Tori, and we all joined her. If it hadn’t been for “Jingle Bells” playing in the background, tears would have flowed. Mary eagerly bounced to the beat and said, “Hey! We need to celebrate. There’s a real angel from the tree right here.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “Let’s get this game going, so we can find another angel tomorrow.”

“But watch out for Gramcrackers’s money cookies.” Vicki giggled.

They stared at my Cheshire cat smile before I said. “Remember, a little ingenuity never hurt anyone. At least you’ll have something to lol about with your bff for years.”

~M.M. Jarrell

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