Once a year we children searched the skies for Grandpa. He always touched down during the Christmas season, so we would wait in the airport, our noses pressed against the frozen glass in painful anticipation. We admired Grandpa for several reasons. For one thing, he was the only one I knew who drank cough syrup straight from the bottle, oblivious to its high alcoholic content. And his bald head was as smooth as polished brass—only it grew less hair. We also loved Grandpa for his girth, which offered us several advantages. It was perfect to hide behind during certain games we’d play. What’s more, the five of us found room on Grandpa’s lap simultaneously to hear the Christmas story year after year. Most importantly, Grandpa always brought a gallon of genuine maple syrup and a brown leather suitcase heavy with brightly-wrapped packages (mostly for my sister).
But this Christmas, it looked like Grandpa’s plane had arrived without him. Other grandpas arrived to the hugs and kisses of kids like us. But not Grandpa Callaway. Then Dad noticed someone off to one side. Could it be? He was the right size. He had the right face. But he also had hair. “GRANDPA!” we yelled. “What in the wor…?” said Dad. “A wig…” replied Mom, her hand over her mouth, “…sort of.” Moments later a restroom mirror told Grandpa why he had escaped our notice. The wig was a good one. But it was on sideways, the Made In Canada tag sloping neatly over his left ear. “Oh say,” said Grandpa. “Oh say.” But the news would not get better. Grandpa’s luggage, it seemed, had not made the journey with him. “OH SSSAY!” said Grandpa, through his false teeth.
As the ensuing commotion died down, I began to piece the implications together. No maple syrup. No brightly-wrapped presents. And then the strangest thing happened. I realized it didn’t matter. Grandpa had given us the best present of all: himself. Christmas would come without maple syrup and presents. Games would be played. Songs sung. And stories told. Including the greatest story ever told.
That Christmas morning, we listened intently from Grandpa’s lap, as he told us about the Light that came blazing into the world. Of the Son of God, in a barn. And he told us that God could have given us anything He wanted. But He gave us the best gift of all: Himself.
Of course, that day at the airport, Grandpa didn’t take this quite so well. As we climbed into the car, I heard him mutter, “Oh say.” As he reached for the cough syrup.
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