The pin

Every December I open the small cardboard box, remove the pin, and place it on my winter dress coat.

This is the fifteenth year.

The box is now timeworn but the little poinsettia still sparkles like it did the day I bought it. There it was, right by the checkout counter where I purchased black hose to wear to my grandmother’s funeral.

Not one poinsettia pin.

Three of them, just alike.

I bought them all.

I packed them for the journey to my grandparents’ hometown. The setting of so many idyllic childhood summers, so many holiday and birthday gatherings.

It happened to be her ninety-first birthday when the family gathered at the funeral home on that cold winter’s night.

She was born the day after Christmas. Used to chuckle about not having anything to look forward to the rest of the year, with her wedding anniversary, Christmas, and birthday all in December. But she loved the season more than anyone I’ve ever known. Sending and receiving cards. Baking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. Glass ornaments and colorful lights on the tree. Gifts in festive paper, old-fashioned hard candy in the candy dish. Collecting angel figurines and bells across the years. The aged, sepia-toned Nativity scene atop the piano. Going to church. Carols. Snowfall. Candles in the windowsills, shining in the night. Little children with wonderstruck expressions. She loved it all. She exuded holiday joy.

It was her season.

One of my favorite old photos was taken at Christmas when I was a baby: Granddaddy holds a new shotgun. Grandma holds a poinsettia. It’s their first Christmas as grandparents. Her face is radiant.

I would give her a poinsettia every Christmas in her later years. She would exclaim over each one: Oh, it’s just beautiful!

It had to be red, like her season. Like her name. Ruby. Deep red, precious. Bright as the cardinals that also enchanted her.

I knew she would leave at Christmastime. Seemed written in the stars.

And she did. The day before Christmas Eve.

The holiday was a blur. Arrangements were made. The visitation set for the twenty-sixth because there wasn’t time before Christmas Day.

I would speak at her service the following day. I would read Proverbs 31: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…

I would ask that her favorite Christmas song be played. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…the first song she taught me how to play on her chord organ, when I was around four or five. Her hands guided my fingers along the keys.

I would find the tiny old church of my happy childhood summers laden with red poinsettias. Christmas remnants. I would recall someone giving her a silk poinsettia after she went into the nursing home, and how she lovingly watered it…dementia erasing pieces of the mind, of memory, leaving fragments intact.

I arrived early for the visitation. There was something I needed to do.

Three poinsettia pins, just alike.

I wore one on my coat. I gave one to her last living child, my aunt, who met me at the casket. And I leaned in to pin the third one on the lapel of her suit.

She would be buried with her last poinsettia.

Merry Christmas and happy birthday, Grandma. Sleep in heavenly peace.

December comes again, and again I wear my pin. She is near. In the songs, in the lights, in the color, in the spirit, in the story. As undiminished as brilliant cardinals against the wintertime world.

It is forever her season.

22 thoughts on “The pin

  1. This is such lovely writing because it allows me to know Ruby through so many many small details. You pace the unfolding of the details so well and then the one that got me as the reader – where you pinned the 3 pin…so glad you added the photo too. I feel honored to have met Ruby today through this lovely piece of writing. So glad her memory is living on so strong through you. And now I’ll be thinking of her as I see red poinsettia, too. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Thank you for your words, Sally. Grandma Ruby was energetic and active up until the last few years of her long life. When she was in her seventies I went to visit and discovered her up on stepladder in the kitchen, painting her cabinets! My grandfather was just as agile and lived to be 92. They always worked hard but their lives were so well-spent. They adored children. They’re among my life’s greatest gifts.

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  2. Fran, your grandparents’ picture brings back all the feels of Christmas when the world was right – the tinsel on the tree, the oval photo, ankles crossed for the picture

    I can practically smell the roast Ruby has cooking in her oven. I see her loving her
    husband in the lean, and I see the legacy that she left running right through your veins in the words you write and the moments you share. You are blessed beyond measure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • How do you like that all-tinsel tree, Kim?? So 1960s! You can’t see it in the photo but Grandma had an electric color wheel that rotated, shining on the tree and turning it different colors. It is among my earliest memories. She DID make a killer roast and oh, what I’d give to eat at her table once more. I am fiercely proud her blood and Granddaddy’s runs in my veins. She and I are intertwined on so many levels – I’m her namesake (as she’s Ruby Frances; wrote about that earlier this year). She read to me when I was little and is THE reason I’ve loved books and story all my life. She and Granddaddy loved children and always made over them. Must tell you that this past Sunday night, I wore my poinsettia pin on a red dress to lead the children’s program (they sang five songs, it was SO. PRECIOUS.). The church was full of gorgeous poinsettias…at the close, we sang Silent Night: Grandma Grandma Grandma. My granddaughter Micah was there. As I held her afterward, she stared at my poinsettia pin before drowsing sweetly off to sleep. The legacy lives on. Bless you for your words and MERRY CHRISTMAS! ❤

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    • There is deep comfort, and peace, in remembering. There was comfort and peace at the time, mostly born of the indescribable gratitude I felt to, and for, my grandmother. She remains one of the greatest gifts of my life. Your words mean much – thank you!

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    • Thank you for reading and for your thoughts, Lakshmi. A friend of mine printed the photo and gave me a red mat for it yesterday. I have it in a silver frame now, atop Grandma’s beautiful wood chord organ. The memories are so rich and happy!

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  3. This is not only a powerful memory, it is also about the power of a “thing” to connect us to those we love. I feel like I know your grandmother through your words and I suspect she is smiling from above.

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    • Yes, writing around an object can pull up so many things – memory, emotion, place – lots of layers. I’ve written bits of this before but never tied it all together or to the pin. Somehow it felt necessary to do so. My grandmother was an extraordinary encourager; she loved my writing (even when it was not at all wonderful) and so I do think she would be delighted. When I write of her, I recall her sense of wonder, awe, and deep appreciation for many things – and I hold to it myself. It is how I want to live my life. Thank you for your words and I hope you will have a lovely holiday!

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    • Thank you for these words. My husband brought two poinsettias home from church this week; they stand by my grandmother’s old piano and beautiful wood chord organ. They add such grace and richness to the whole room…as grandma did in my life. Perfect symbol for her. I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday!

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  4. Oh Fran…..Today is the anniversary of my Grandma passing away 6 years ago. She too loved Christmas and I loved all my Christmases with her. This was crafted with such beauty and love…..when you pinned the last poinsettia pin on your Grandma…..tears! I love the part about how she is nearby and close as you wear your pin and this whole season. I feel that way too about my Grandma. What gifts from God Grandmas are…..I know you are that now for your two granddaughters.

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    • Dear Kathleen…ever the kindred spirit…it is both hard yet beautiful in its way to lose a beloved grandmother at Christmas, knowing she loved it so well. What a time to go, in the season of angels and rejoicing, in the season of hope and life, in the time of holiness, at its very core…yes, what gifts our grandmothers were and still are! Sunday night when I led our children’s Christmas music program at church, my son’s family came. I wore my pin. Afterward I held my beautiful Micah and she drifted off to sleep looking at it. No words for the sense of full circle and completeness … except profound gratitude and abiding blessing. My grandmother set the bar high, yet I will aim for it! Thank you for this beautiful reply, for your beautiful heart…and here’s to our beautiful grandmothers. Love and blessings to you this Christmas! Enjoy every moment!

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  5. Fran, This is an unbelievably beautiful memory. It filled me with both joy and sadness. But, the symbolism you’ve imbued into the poinsettia for yourself is priceless. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal memory of your grandmother’s life and the poinsettia pin.

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    • The flower itself – whether a living plant or my sparkly pin – is so bright and full of cheer, such a great symbol for my grandmother. I miss her to this day. I often think “Grandma would love this” or “what would Grandma say about this”…we were always close. She never feels far away. As a grandmother myself now, I am deeply aware of the big shoes she’s left to fill! And the joy – oh, it runs so deep; it’s a buoy in the times of sadness. Thank you for your words and have a lovely holiday!

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  6. Fran, this is an extraordinary ode to your grandmother – thank you for sharing it with us! I am so touched by these words describing her, “Used to chuckle about not having anything to look forward to the rest of the year,” – she sounds so wonderful. I am awed that you found these precious poinsettia pins at the checkout, almost happenstance – this feels particularly holy. Again, thank you! And, have a lovely Christmas!!

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    • Thank you for this lovely, lovely response, Maureen. Awe is exactly what I felt, finding those pins – as if they were waiting right there, for this reason. I knew exactly what to do. Holy…yes. So tied to awe. I hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas as well!

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  7. Fran, this is another stellar and tender life story. The poinsettia pin must be your garnered treasure. Life is rich with our grandmothers as we keep them close to our hearts. I wish for your granddaughters to hold you in high esteem and fill your heart with stories that will last forever as your grandmother’s story has.

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    • Our grandmothers will always be near, Carol, as I know we will also for our beloved little ones. So many gifts. The pin is just one of many symbols for me! My grandmother had many stories of her own that I must preserve, somehow. Thank you for your words and many blessings, my friend.

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