Grandma Hattie

Grandma Hattie

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Grandma Hattie

You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationship every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.

Barbara De Angelis

Going through the Christmas cards in ourmail box today, I came across one from my dear old grandma in Illinois. She never fails. Never missed a birthday, Christmas, or anniversary as long as I’ve lived. Quite a gal, old Grandma Hattie. There’s always a nice little letter inside wrapped around a crisp five-dollar bill she can’t afford to send.

I read the letter—newsy stuff about her holiday baking and the weather (no snow there yet, either). Then as always, there was the postscript at the end: “Just a little Christmas treat. Love, Grandma.” So I tucked the five-dollar bill into my shirt and promised that my wife and I would do something extra-special with it. At least as special as five bucks will buy you these days.

Then, as I was reading through the rest of the mail, I came across another card from Grandma. I’ll be darned. Must be our anniversary card, being as we were married the day after Christmas, same as her birthday. She never forgets. I was wrong. It was another Christmas card with another newsy little letter and another brand-new five-dollar bill she couldn’t afford to send. Well, what do you think of that?

She must have gotten confused somehow and forgotten to cross us off her list. Or maybe she doesn’t have a list. She may do it from memory, and eighty-seven-year-old memories can play tricks like that at times. She may have thought she already sent us one but wasn’t altogether sure, so she sent another one just in case. That would be just like her. Rather than take the chance of missing one of us by mistake, she’d send two just to be sure. There aren’t many of us who can afford the five dollars that would do that. The heck of it is that I don’t dare send it back. She’d be so embarrassed by the mistake, it would do her no good, and I’m sure we can get it back to her in other ways.

There are probably not a whole lot of Christmases left in Grandma Hat, and the world will be the worse for it when she goes. She’s endeared herself to friends, family and strangers alike for many, many decades. My mom tells a story of her from the Depression years.

At the time, Grandma and Grandpa owned a dairy. It was right next door to the house, where the garden is now, and they ran it themselves. They lived near the train tracks, and being that it was during the Depression, they used to get their share of hoboes coming around looking for handouts.

They were hard-working folks, my mom’s family, and believed that everybody else should be, too. They’d give the “bums,” as she called them, food and milk, all right, but they’d have to wash milk cans, scrub floors, shovel snow or some such thing to get it. Those were the rules, and nobody complained.

Mom says they got pretty popular on the hobo circuit and got that inevitable mark on their front gatepost. Just a little X on the post in white chalk to let the other hoboes know this was a place where a guy could get a handout. It was common practice at that time and was supposed to be on the sly. But Grandma knew it was there. She never did bother any with that chalk on the gatepost, except just once.

It was Christmastime, and my mom was just a little girl. They didn’t have any snow yet, but right before Christmas they had a big wind and rainstorm. Coming back from church that Sunday, Grandma noticed that the chalk mark had been washed clear off the post by the storm.

It got cold right away like it will on the Midwestern plains and snowed to beat the band. She sat that day in the front room saying the rosary with Grandpa like they always did on Sunday. They saw the hoboes walking down from the train yard going wherever it is hoboes go in a snowstorm. They looked so cold and defeated, but none of them was stopping at the gate or knocking on the dairy window like they always did. Then it struck her why. Of course—the little white X wasn’t on the post anymore. Now, where another person might have been relieved to be left alone the Sunday before Christmas, Old Grandma Hat, and she wasn’t that old then, put on her overcoat, went right out to the gatepost, and put a great big white X there where nobody could miss it.

I don’t know if they got to feed any hoboes that day or not because Mom usually stops telling the story about there, but it doesn’t matter. It told me something about Grandma, and I’ve carried this story with me a long time. She put that X on the gatepost way back then for the same reason she sent us two Christmas cards this year. She didn’t want to miss anybody, even if it did cost an extra five bucks. I always think of that story when I’m starting to feel a little broke and put out at Christmastime; then I’m ashamed of myself.

Tom Bodett

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