Feature photo by jms2

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Charlie Brown has never spoken truer words. Christmastime is normally one of my favorite times of year. But this year, I know Christmas will be different. This year will be my first Christmas without my grandpa.

He was my maternal grandfather, and the only grandpa I really grew up knowing. He passed away in September, on my brother’s birthday. He had been sick for some time, but it didn’t make his passing any easier. He was our patriarch, our cowboy, the one we all looked up to. He was the glue that held us all together.

The week after we laid him to rest I started a new school endeavor. In addition to my full time job I’ve been kept very busy. While it’s been really stressful, it’s been good to be able to keep my mind off of missing him or worrying about how my grandma is doing without him around. That’s the way he would have wanted it anyway, for us to all keep trucking along, being the best, getting the most, kicking ass in life, and being proud of it. I try to remember that every time that burning sensation creeps into the back of my throat or my eyes just involuntarily start leaking. Like when I’m watching Eastbound and Down and “Volver Volver,” one of his favorite songs, plays in the background, or when I’m driving to work and pass a truck like the one he used to drive. Or what has happened every time I’ve tried to sit down and write about him. I can picture him shaking his head at me and my glassy eyes.

I knew getting through the holidays would be tough, not just for me, but for the whole family. As we all gathered for Thanksgiving as usual, the mood just wasn’t as loud and rambunctious as it usually was. I’m sure it was just a coincidence, but I noticed a lot of us were wearing black. It sort of signified our muted festivities.

But Thanksgiving was always more my grandma’s holiday in my mind. Her birthday is at the end of November, and every so often her birthday falls on Thanksgiving day, so we give thanks and celebrate her. Now Christmas, on the other hand, brings back floods of memories of my grandpa. Even silly little things like the way he used to goof around with me and say “Merry Christmas, thank you very much” every time I sneezed.

I remember the whole family getting together every year at his house on Christmas Eve. All six of his daughters, their husbands and all of their kids would pile into my grandparents’ house with garbage bags full of gifts that they would unpack and pile under the tree. We’d eat, and if my grandpa was feeling particularly festive, he’d play music on this big radio he had in the living room. Us kids would plead with him to let us open presents, but every year he’d make us wait until midnight. We’d all sit around the tree, and he’d pick up one gift at a time, read the gift tag with pomp and circumstance and hand it out to the lucky recipient. Once all the gifts were passed out, he’d give the okay and then sit back and watch the frenzy of shredded wrapping paper and shrieks of excitement.

In the past few years, we weren’t able to gather at his house on Christmas Eve anymore. As some of the grandkids grew to 6 feet and started families of their own, there wasn’t enough room for all of us anymore. And as he got more and more sick, he couldn’t handle the commotion a large family brings anyway. And so we’d gather at the house of one of his daughters on Christmas Eve and visit him and my grandma in spurts instead of all at once. Except for last year. He was feeling so good, he got all dressed up in his western wear and cowboy hat and even made himself a little name tag that said “El Guapo.” As my mom was about to take a picture of the two of us together, I tried to put my beer down, and he told me to keep it in the picture. It was one of the last pictures I’d ever take with my grandpa, the two of us clinking beer bottles like old drinking buddies. I’m not even sure where he got his beer from because he wasn’t drinking. I miss those silly hijinks.

Sadly, this Christmas will be without them. I’m happy I got to have 25 Christmases with him around but sad there won’t be another one. I know every Christmas going forward won’t be sad, but I wonder how long they will be.

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