Christmas with Grandpa Joe - By Ellen Wilson

Sean Roberds | Dec 23, 2014


Grandpa Joe sat all alone in his living room. For the first time in 70 years, he hadn't bothered with a Christmas tree.

Frankly it wasn’t for lack of interest. Joe had promised Mae on her deathbed that he would always have a Christmas tree. Unfortunately Joe had broken his leg. Sitting in his lazy-boy recliner he couldn’t figure out how he would get a tree, and even if he did, how would he decorate it?  His sons Billy and Allen had come up for Thanksgiving and wouldn’t be back until New Year’s weekend. He hated for the grandchildren to come to a house without a tree. He sighed, crutches may be a wonderful invention, but they could also be a total pain in the armpit. With less than a week until Christmas, Joe was in a quandary as to how to pull off his promise to his wife. He could just feel her looking down at him shaking her head in dismay. 

The doorbell rang. Joe struggled to get up out of his chair. He was pleased to see Pastor Sean smiling back at him through the door window. The pastor sat and listened intently as Joe described his battle with the outside Christmas lights, a battle he obviously lost. Joe explained how a mailman just happened to be passing by and helped him out. After a while the pastor stood to leave, said he would show himself out, and promised he would find a way to help bring Christmas to Joe’s house. He left with a hearty Merry Christmas! And so our story begins…


I’m Joe’s Christmas Angel. That’s right, not just any angel, but his Christmas Angel. My name is Crystal. I’ve been told I have a sparkling personality. Well I have! Ever since Mae passed I’ve watched over Joe’s Christmases, because he was such a faithful soul, and he and Mae really loved this time of year. Two days ago I turned my back for a minute and Joe climbed that silly ladder next to the porch. Before I knew what happened he was on the ground. It was a good thing I had my mailman gear on. Getting Joe help was easy, I just called 911, but keeping his Christmas tree tradition this year, well I could see that was going to take more effort on my part. I didn’t have much time. Pastor Sean would be helping, whether he knew it or not. Let me fill you in on some details. 

Monday – After his visit to Joe, Sean returned to his office at the church to make his morning calls and check his emails. He let the prayer chain know about Joe’s leg. Next he sat and tried to think how he would get Joe’s tree. Oh he knew he could get one to the house, but this was his busy week, and he didn’t have time to decorate it. He gave a quick call to Mary Jane, head of the ladies circle. Normally she would love to help, but this year she was going to visit her daughter in Idaho. Her flight was that afternoon. Next he tried Harry of the Properties Committee. He was always handy. Harry would help except for the flu bug that had him confined to the couch under a ton of blankets. Harry suggested that Sean call Sarah, she was Joe’s Bible study teacher. Sarah was very concerned, but she had a sick aunt staying with her and she just couldn’t leave her aunt alone. Sean decided he needed some help, and he did what he always does when he needs guidance, he prayed. Sean’s prayer was simple, he just asked for help for Joe to make this Christmas special. His prayer triggered my “get on the stick alarm”, and that is how I knew Sean had turned his problem over to my Boss, who delegated it to me! By this time I had an idea. Of course, why hadn’t I seen it before? The answer was only a block away.


Tuesday – The town woke to a few inches of lovely snow. Don’t you just love white? It was a wonderland, but Joe only saw it as adding insult to injury. The snow would ruin any chance he had to get a tree. I knew differently. The church Care Team had put out a call for food for Joe and responses were coming in. The problem was many of the older members didn’t want to go out in the snow to deliver the food. After seeing all the emails, Betty hit the Reply All button. “Don’t worry, I live just down the block and I’m happy to walk to Joe’s with some food.” When Betty got to Joe’s house it was mid-day. Snow continued to fall, and her walk had taken a bit longer than normal. Finally on his porch steps she stopped and stared at a large tree blocking her path to the door. There was a note tied to a branch that said, “Here is a tree from the local Boy Scout tree lot, still working on how to get it decorated, Pastor Sean.”  Betty set her casserole dish down and left the bag of canned soup and chips in her grandson’s red wagon which she had pulled behind her in the snow. Betty paused, she didn’t really know Joe, she was still new to the church, but she thought the Care Team would be a good way to meet people. Guess she was about to meet Joe. Betty was far from a big woman, but I knew she wouldn’t see me and between the two of us we moved the tree to the side of the door. Betty adjusted her clothing, picked up her casserole dish and bag of goodies, and rang the doorbell. Inside she heard a man shout, “Just a minute I’m coming.” Betty looked around the porch, it was tidy and cozy, but it was still a porch and the cold wind was making her shiver. By the time Joe opened the door Betty was doing a little dance to get the blood flowing. He didn’t recognize her at all.

He said, “Yes, can I help you?”

“Oh no, I am here to help you.” She smiled.

Joe looked confused.

“Sorry, I’m new at First Baptist and I live just down the block. With the snow I volunteered to walk some food down to you.”

Joe smiled and asked her to come in. Betty was just about to enter, forgetting about the tree, so I had to twinkle a bit and catch her eye.

“Oh, Pastor Sean brought you a tree.” She nodded toward the large fir tree on the porch.

“Well great, but I’m in no condition to deal with it.”

“I have an idea,” she said.

Betty asked to put her casserole dish and bag inside. Before he could answer she brushed past him and made a bee-line to the kitchen.

“My house is the same floor plan.” She added as she went back out the front door.

“Now, just hold the door wide open.” With an impressive tug she grabbed the tree trunk to drag it in. When I started to help Betty almost fell down, it was pretty funny, but don’t worry I made sure she didn’t really fall.

“Gee that was easier than I anticipated.”

“You’re pretty strong, it was almost like there were two of you.” They both laughed.

Joe shut the door and Betty turned to properly introduce herself, then she put the casserole in the oven to warm, poured them each some hot tea, and again she saw the tree.

“Why did Pastor Sean bring you a tree, when he knew you couldn’t move it or decorate it?”

Joe proceeded to tell of his promise to Mae and even though he appreciated the gesture he really wasn’t sure if it would ever leave the entry way floor. Betty understood, and she explained that she and her husband of thirty-five years had split up. She decided to start over in a new town. A plan to start her own business, her daughter Karen and grandson James, had brought her here, but she truly felt an angel lead her to First Baptist. Joe listened as Betty talked of the warmth of the people at the church and how it had helped her transition, over this last month. He understood what she meant, but felt a twinge of guilt since he knew he had not been to church in over a month. Betty talked a lot, but it was a nice change for Joe who had quickly grown tired of the quiet.

“Oh my!  It is nearly three o’clock. I have to get home, my grandson James is coming after school to bake cookies, and I haven’t unpacked my cookie cutters.”

Betty jumped up, gathered the dirty dishes, helped Joe from the table to his chair, and put a fresh cup of tea by the T.V. remote.

“I’ll come by tomorrow with some lunch and we will deal with that tree!” With that she was out the door.

Joe thought she was a bit bossy, but in the nicest way. Meanwhile, I helped Pastor Sean forget about the tree, not that hard to do. 

Wednesday – Betty arrived as planned with more food, cookies, and her “let’s get it done” attitude. Joe wanted to laugh at her snowman sweatshirt and very large, very white tennis shoes, but he didn’t dare, after all he couldn’t really defend himself. After lunch Betty and I put the tree in the stand. Joe was still surprised by her strength. Betty attributed it to all the moving boxes she had hauled around the last few weeks. I just love this stuff! Joe had one hand on a crutch and one on the tree. Betty was up and down tightening the tree stand bolts and checking to see that it wasn’t leaning. Getting the decorations had required my help again. Joe said he feared she would have to go in to the attic on a ladder to get them down. They headed down the hall and Betty asked what all those boxes were in the guest room. Joe studied them for a minute and said, “Those are the decorations. Funny, I don’t remember getting them out of the attic.” Honestly I love messing with Joe.

“Oh well, at our age it is easy to forget the little things.” With that observation Betty told Joe to please clear the hall and she began taking the boxes to the living room. This time Joe was propped on one crutch with the other hand free to hang ornaments. He nearly fell once and Betty made him sit down, but she did let him tell her where to hang each ornament. She thought that was only fair since it was his tree. I added a few myself, and had to fight back my giggles when I saw their confused looks. Joe had a tree and just in time, only two days before Christmas. As Betty put her coat on to leave she suggested they could make some homemade decorations the next day. Joe wasn’t overly excited about the idea, but then Betty wasn’t asking for his opinion. In a flash she was gone and Joe was settled back in his chair with a fresh cup of tea.


Thursday – Betty returned for lunch just as she had promised. Joe had a good fire going and already had the kettle on for tea. Betty had brought several kinds of tea for him to try, but he hadn’t gotten the knack of brewing yet. The doorbell rang and Joe yelled out, “It’s open come on in.” When he turned to face the hallway there stood a boy, about nine, Joe would guess.

“Who are you? And why are you in my house?” Joe said as he hobbled toward the boy.

“I’m James, and you told me to come in, so I did.” Joe realized this must be Betty’s grandson. Sure enough, in rushed Betty with a basket of food and another bag, this time with craft supplies.

“Oh, I see you two have met, you did tell him to come in I heard you.” Joe knew there was no point arguing. James politely left his boots at the door and hung his coat and scarf on the hall hooks. He looked at his Nana and walked over to Joe with his hand out, “Pleased to meet you.” Unfortunately Joe forgot about the crutches and nearly fell. Betty thought it was funny, James joined in her laughter, and eventually so did Joe. I was practically rolling on the floor, and nearly knocked over Mae favorite vase. The three of them sat at the table and Betty served up lunch. While pouring the tea she explained to Joe about the brewing process. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t remember, James rolled his eyes and shot Joe a smile, but Betty rambled on. Time passed by quickly. In a matter of hours they had popcorn and cranberry garland, snow people and angels made of Styrofoam balls and miscellaneous felt pieces, they were covered in newsprint, but at least the glue never hit the table. Betty and James washed up and headed home. The three agreed the homemade decorations were the perfect addition to Joe’s special tree. Joe watched from the porch as Betty and James pulled the red wagon down the street. It was then he realized she had not mentioned coming over the next day. That was to be expected he guessed, she had left him with tons of food and tea. She had managed to get his Christmas tree up and decorated. Inside his house Joe could feel the quiet. He missed his family. Tomorrow he might call his sons, and Pastor to wish them a Merry Christmas Eve. 

Friday – Christmas Eve morning brought bright sunshine. Joe was slow getting up and dressed since his fall, the soreness seemed much worse in the morning.  Once downstairs he decided to try his hand at brewing tea. It turned out only okay, but it would have to do. Joe grabbed a couple of cookies and sat alone at the table. Later he made his way to the recliner, grabbed the remote and his wool blanket. It wasn’t long before he was napping. When Joe woke up it was getting dark. He sat for a moment looking at his tree. It was the best tree since losing Mae. Joe whispered, “Mae, what should I do? It’s just so quiet.”  The tree lights were glowing, and Joe suddenly realized he didn’t remember turning them on.  He thought about Betty’s remark about forgetting things, but it just seemed worse these last few days. Joe grabbed his cell phone, made a quick call, and pushed himself out of his chair. He would call his sons tomorrow; right now he was on a mission.  When I rang the doorbell he was right there. “Thanks for coming to the door, I could use some help getting to the taxi.”  I just smiled. Joe has always been polite. I drove him straight to First Baptist. By the looks of things most folks were already inside. I helped him up to the door and the Usher took over with a big Merry Christmas! The sanctuary was packed, but then it was Christmas Eve, and even the irregulars seemed to find time to worship at this time of the year. Joe went in and found a space toward the back. He loved all the candles and little kids dressed up. The tree was huge compared to Joe’s, and while it was lovely, he liked his better. Mae had loved the music and now that Joe thought about it, he did too. It was during the candle lighting at the end of the service that Joe spotted Betty, her daughter Karen and grandson James. James was excited and squirming in the pew. Joe could remember seeing his sons and grandchildren filled with that same wonder and excitement.  The service ended and Joe tried to stay out of the way with his crutches. He’d arranged for the taxi to come back for him about fifteen minutes after the service so he wouldn’t be in the crowd.

“Why Joe, you made it. Where are your sons?”

Joe knew that voice, it was Betty’s, and the next thing James was hugging his good leg. “Mr. Joe did you get to hold a candle?” James was beside himself excited.

“Yes James I did, and I was really careful so I wouldn’t fall down.” James laughed at Joe and the others joined in. Suddenly Pastor Sean came rushing over, “Joe, Oh my, I just remembered your tree, I’m so very sorry.”

“Not to worry Pastor, a new friend took care of it.”

Betty was beaming and James said, “I helped Mr. Joe with his tree.” There were lots of eyes rolling.

As they walked toward me, and my taxi, Betty apologized for not coming by with lunch. She had misunderstood and thought Joe’s sons were coming for Christmas Eve. He could tell she felt really badly so he told her not to worry, he had plenty of food, and she was noticeably impressed that he had tried to brew tea. Everyone waved goodbye, I helped Joe in to the cab, and drove him home. He was humming Silent Night the whole way. Once inside the house I told him someone had paid for his cab rides, and left him in his chair by the tree with his wool blanket and a cup of tea.


Saturday – Christmas Day brought another inch of snow; it was magical. Joe slowly made his way downstairs, brewed a pot of tea, had a bit of breakfast, and headed to his chair. He spotted a small box on the table by the recliner. For the life of him he didn’t remember seeing it there last night. Again, I just love this part!  Joe opened the small box, and inside, was a small white angel ornament. The note said, “ I felt like Mae would have really liked this angel on her tree. Merry Christmas! Betty.” Joe smiled and put the angel right in the front. She was right. Mae would have loved it. The doorbell rang and Joe made his way over. When he opened it there stood Betty, Karen and James. They each held a container of food, and the red wagon was overloaded with gifts, and more food. With a loud Merry Christmas the gang pushed in passed Joe. There was lots of action as they went back and forth to unload the red wagon. Betty came over to Joe and said she had gotten him a gift, but couldn’t seem to find it.

“Why it’s right here, on the tree.”

“I don’t remember bringing it over.” Betty replied, looking a bit concerned.

“Well you know when we get older we sometimes forget little things.” Joe and Betty both laughed. Karen and James rolled their eyes and shook their heads.

With a big smile, Joe invited them to join him for a freshly brewed pot of tea.

“Well sir,” Betty said with a serious note. “As much as I love tea, I think I would like to stand here a bit longer and admire this wonderful tree.” Joe had to agree, it was an amazing tree. It was an amazing Christmas. Joe gave Betty a big one arm hug, and was careful not to fall down. 

And so our story ends, at least for now! Merry Christmas!

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