Blogmas 2018 – Day 12 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

 
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcyndi.hilston%2Fvideos%2F10154756953580030%2F&show_text=0&width=560
 

Merry Christmas!! As a gift to you, I’m sharing with you a part of a Christmas chapter from my story, Hannah’s Rainbow, which is based on my late grandma’s life. I recreated what a typical Christmas morning was like at my house when growing up and Grandma would spend the night. While what’s below is fiction, it’s based in fact. I’ve also posted a short video of Grandma’s last Christmas with us, and you will see some parallels between the story and the real thing.

————-

When Hannah woke early on Christmas morning, she crossed the hallway to the bathroom and smiled at how Haley had lined up all of her personal items on the counter, completely unpacking her travel bag. After she finished her morning ablutions, Hannah made her way downstairs in her brightly-colored floral robe and fuzzy red and green slippers.
She entered the kitchen to find it empty, and hearing voices down in the finished basement, Hannah made to join the rest of the family. Haley came running up the steps, followed by Abbi.
“There are you, Grandma. We were waiting for you.”
“Did I hold you up?” Hannah asked, surprised. “It’s only 7:30.”
Abbi smirked, shaking her dark head. “You know my daughter, Mom. She was the first one up, counting the presents to see if she or her brother got more.”
“Grandma, come on downstairs,” Haley insisted.
“Wait, Haley,” Abbi said firmly. “Mom, do you want to grab a cup of tea before heading down?”
“Tea would be wonderful, thank you.”
The teapot was already on the stove. Hannah took a seat at the kitchen table to wait.
“How long is this gonna take?” the girl complained.
Just then, the kettle whistled.
“Hold your horses,” Abbi said, removing the teapot from the flame and pouring two cups, each with their own bag.
Hannah graciously accepted the cup, cradling the warm beverage between her hands. She kept from commenting on her daughter’s waste of good tea bags. Hannah had been using a single bag in the kettle for an entire week for decades now, and it had served her just fine.
“Are you ready now?” Haley asked. She looked out the window into the backyard and smiled. “Hey, it snowed!”
“What?” Abbi asked, frowning. She glanced briefly out the window. “That’s not snow, Haley. It’s just a thick frost.”
“Grandma, come here and look. What do you think?”
Amused, Hannah stood and ambled over to the window. Abbi was right about the frost, but not wishing to ruin her granddaughter’s spirit, she said, “What do you think?”
“Maybe it is frost, but it’s white, so it still counts as a white Christmas. Wouldn’t you say, Grandma?”
Hannah smiled warmly. “Yes, I think it does.”
Haley laughed. “See? I told you, Mom.”
“Yes, yes, let’s go downstairs now.”
Haley ran ahead of her mom and grandma. “She’s up, Dad! She’s finally coming, Randy!” she called down.
Hannah carefully followed Abbi down the carpeted stairs, remembering the youthful enthusiasm she once had on Christmas mornings.
By the time Hannah joined the rest of the family, Haley was already clutching a gift. For a moment, Hannah thought the girl was about to rip it open, but then Haley handed it to her.
“This is for you, Grandma. I made it.”
“Is it something you drink tea out of?” Randy asked.
“Oh, shut up.”
“Hey, can I help it if your hints are dead giveaways?” Randy teased.
Hannah smiled and said, “I wonder what it could be?”
She used her long thumbnail to undo the tape and the wrapping, careful not to rip it.
“Hurry up, Grandma. Who cares if you rip the paper?” Haley asked.
“Why waste good paper? It can be reused.”
“Mom, they don’t make wrapping paper like they used to. You don’t have to save it and iron it. It’s cheap enough to just buy new,” Abbi said.
In front of Hannah, Alan stood with his video camera. She didn’t comment on the younger generations’ lack of recycling, their tendency to rush through things, or their need to capture every minute of every special occasion on film. Wrapping removed, Hannah gazed down at the gift: a calendar.
“It’s lovely,” she said, flipping through the pages at ease. Haley had drawn a picture for every month and had written in the holidays.
“Thanks.” The girl glowed at her grandma’s praise. “I even wrote some Bible verses in it.”
Hannah pulled Haley into a hug and kissed her on the cheek. “I will hang it by my phone and use it. Thank you, Haley.”
“Now can we open our gifts?” asked Randy impatiently, his voice raw from coughing the past two weeks due to a bad cold.
“Go ahead,” Hannah said, motioning toward the tree. “They should be under there somewhere. Look for two envelopes.”
Frowning, the children darted toward the tree, digging through the horde of presents until they each came away with a red envelope. Hannah had taped a candy cane to each one, and Randy was already undoing the wrapping and biting into it. Haley set the candy aside and opened the envelope.
“Fifty dollars!” she and her brother exclaimed simultaneously.
“What do you kids say to your grandma?” asked Abbi.
“Oh, thank you, Grandma!” Haley cried, half-jumping from her seated position.
“Yeah, thanks, Grandma,” Randy said, more subdued but clearly pleased.
“You’re welcome,” Hannah replied. “This way, you can get something you want.”
“Or put it into savings,” Abbi said.
“Mom,” Haley moaned, “we put our birthday money into savings.”
Hannah was happy to see her grandkids smiling, although a part of her mind wandered to Glen’s kids. Abbi caught Hannah’s brief scowl and shot a questioning look at her mother. Hannah forced a smile, her warm countenance in place. She would see the rest of her family soon enough.
The family took the next hour to open gifts, and Haley and Randy argued over who would hold the video camera while their dad opened his presents.
“Neither of you if you can’t hold it still,” Alan said. “That camcorder is my baby, and I won’t have you breaking it.”
“You and your technology, Alan,” Abbi replied. “Two years ago, it was that VCR for six hundred dollars, and now you blow a thousand on this thing.”
“I told you that you didn’t have to get me anything for Christmas, honey.”
“Yeah, if you do come up with a list, you always go to the store and buy it before the event, anyway.”
The argument continued as Abbi and Alan walked back upstairs. The kids were putting some of their gifts away in their rooms, leaving Hannah alone for a few minutes. The tea cup sat empty on the small table next to her chair. She gazed at the lights on the tree, watching them blur, and Hannah touched her cheek to find it covered in tears as her thoughts drifted to Edward.
“Oh, Eddy,” she whispered. “I wish you could’ve been here to see your grandkids grow. We shared some lovely Christmases together, didn’t we? I do wonder what you would think of how things have turned out. Glen is so distant most of the time ever since you left us.”
Hannah gasped when something landed on her lap, and she gazed down to find Haley’s cat, Calliope, nuzzling her hand. Hannah rubbed the cat’s chin, and Cally purred as she settled onto Hannah’s soft robe.
“Were you talking to someone?” came Haley’s voice from the steps.
“Oh, just Cally here. She’s keeping me company while your mom gets breakfast ready.”
Haley scampered over to her grandma’s side and sat on the floor. “Cally only likes Mom and me… and you, Grandma. She’s such a fraidy cat.”
“She seems perfectly content right now. Is breakfast ready?”
“Yeah, that’s what I came down to tell you.”
Hannah gently picked up the cat and placed her on the floor. She followed her exuberant granddaughter to the kitchen, gazing one last time at the tree.

Hannah’s Rainbow is available on Amazon.

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” -Tuesdays with Morrie

grandma3

My great aunt Alma and my grandma, Emma, circa 1931

Today, I am going to share something very special to me, something close to my heart.  Below is the true story that inspired my first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow:

When I was fifteen years old, my grandmother was terminally ill. Months earlier, she had had a sarcoma removed from her leg and had undergone radiation therapy. She was given a clean bill of health in February of that year (1995). Shortly thereafter, she went to the hospital because she had fluid in her lungs, and when they did a scan, they found a spot: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs in a matter of months. Although given two to six months to live, her time on Earth would be much shorter than that.

The day she was released from the hospital and placed under Hospice care, I wrote a letter to her, telling her all that she meant to me, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I expressed my heartfelt admiration of her courage to face what lay ahead. And I asked her to send me a sign once she reached Heaven, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t go there, but because I needed the comfort.

Two weeks later, she came to our house. It was the week before Easter, and she was to spend the time with us, and her sister from California was to come in as well. On the night she arrived, she was still walking and talking. Although thin and weak, she was still herself for the most part. I remember her eating an orange in the family room as I talked to my best friend on the phone.

The next morning, she never got out of bed. The day was gloomy and overcast with thick clouds of early April showers. We thought it might just be the weather or the fact that she had been transported the night before. I overheard my dad speaking to his brother on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than 24 hours. In denial, I refused to believe such nonsense. All I had ever known was a life that had my grandma as part of it; to imagine otherwise was unthinkable!

The pastor from her church came that afternoon to visit, and while doing math homework in my bedroom, adjacent to the room she was in, I heard his voice through the walls, uttering the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She was asleep most of the day, and the couple of times I approached the darkened room where she lay so still on the bed, I think I was afraid. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way, but I think now it was because I couldn’t reconcile the figure I saw in that bed with the figure I knew of her warm smile, cheery eyes, and rosy cheeks.

Some relatives came to visit in the mid-afternoon, and she seemed to brighten some, even laugh at a few jokes. My family was originally planning on attending a concert at the high school that evening, but due to my grandma’s condition, my parents remained home with her, and my brother and I attended by ourselves.

A couple of hours later when we returned home, it was dark and still raining slightly. We parked on the street because there were a couple of other cars in our driveway, and I felt my heart skip a beat as I rushed up the driveway and into the house, not wanting to believe the worst. The first sight that greeted me was my mom walking toward me, her face lined with tears, and she was shaking her head. I knew without having to ask. To this day, over 20 years later, the events of that entire day as are clear as if they happened yesterday.

Standing in the kitchen were my uncle, my dad, and the pastor. We held hands and formed a circle as the pastor said a prayer. I left the kitchen to go to the spot where Grandma had been, but she was already gone from the bed. I saw the men from the funeral home carrying her out, covered in a sheet.

She was truly gone. That night, I dreamt that my mom died, too. While my parents were away the next day taking care of everything, I was at home in the company of my best friend, and it continued to rain. I found it in me to laugh some, finding a pair of checkered pants that was so hideously out of style, but my grandma wore them, anyway. I pulled them over my own clothes and just laughed, mostly because my best friend could always make me laugh. We were visited by a cousin and her husband, who had brought over dinner, and the four of us laughed some more. There was something therapeutic in this, although it was also a brief escape from the reality of the situation.

The wake was two days later, followed the next day by the funeral. It rained in all the days between my grandma never leaving the bed and on the day of the funeral. My letter to my grandma was read at her funeral by the pastor. The Lord’s Prayer was sang by the co-pastors, a husband and wife team. My grandma’s favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord,” was played. As the family followed the casket down the aisle, I was a sobbing mess, and my brother, who was walking alongside me, put his arm around me. I remember briefly trying not to laugh, as we had this weird thing about never touching each other as teenagers, so hugs were forbidden.

Much of the graveside service was a blur, but we stood under a tent as the rain continued. A dinner was served, and then it was over. We were on our way home. That evening, the rain finally stopped. I was in my room when I heard my mom exclaim, “Cyndi, come here!”

I ran into the front window and looked outside. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow! I smiled and knew this was my grandma’s sign to me! There was no doubting that, and to explain this away as mere coincidence is an insult to her, her memory, and to our Lord of miracles. My mom and I turned away for just a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone. To catch such a brief moment in time when that rainbow appeared was not coincidence in the least. Only my mom and I saw that rainbow; it was meant for us.

grandma4

My grandparents, Howard and Emma Grundman, circa 1942

I had the idea for the story back in October 2006.  I woke in the middle of the night with the name “Hannah Rechthart” on my mind.  “Hannah” means ”favor” or “grace.”  “Rechthart” means “right heart.”  I started writing down character names and researching.  Many details from early in Hannah’s life were taken from an autobiography my grandma wrote in high school and another she and her younger sister, Ida (whom Irma is based on), wrote later in life about growing up, called “The Billhardts of Fuller Avenue.”  I also spoke extensively with my mom and had my own memories to work with for Hannah’s later years.

I composed four chapters between October 2006 and January 2009.  Then I had my first child and my second, and the story sat for years, until I started writing in earnest in March 2015.  It may have taken a decade to finally sit down and write it all out, but only by God’s grace and my grandma’s legacy was that inspiration possible.

It’s been over twenty years since my grandma passed away, but in writing this story, I hope I was able to convey with the love I’ve always had for her that she was a wonderful person.  

May you see many rainbows in your life, wherever you go.

The Letter I Wrote to Grandma:

letter1

letter2

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful