Cigarettes, Talcum Powder, Sunshine

February 23, 2009
By karenz1 SILVER, Albuquerque, New Mexico
karenz1 SILVER, Albuquerque, New Mexico
5 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Upon seeing the cracked Virgin Mary, the decapitated Joseph, and the crumbling baby Jesus, I was angry with the U.S Postal Service. Removing the nativity set from the box, I noticed a card under the disfigured bodies of the wise men. The weight on my heart became ten times heavier after reading the Christmas card signed 'Love, Old Green Face,' in that loopy cursive I knew so well.

Her name was Dorothy, so I assumed it was only right to make her watch the Wizard of Oz with me over and over, from the time I could talk until the tape would no longer play, finally breaking somewhere around my twelfth birthday. I had many nicknames for her over the years, but 'old green face' was the one that stuck. After watching the Wizard of Oz for the two millionth time, I jokingly called her old green face, comparing her to the wicked witch of the west. It started with a simple childish movie, but in time I developed a loving relationship with my grandmother. Over the years I convinced my cousins to refer to her by the nickname as well and by the time I was thirteen, everyone in the family knew it.
For as long as I can remember Christmas Eve was always spent at my grandparents' house. When we'd walk in the door to a house full of Italians, my grandmother would yell, 'Oh ho,' from somewhere upstairs in the kitchen. Entering the living room, several family members would all be telling a story at once, always beginning with, 'Did I eva tell yous bout the time'' in their Italian accents mixed with east coast slang. My cousins and I would sneak away to find my grandma's secret stash of M&M's and butterscotch candies, and to rearrange the nativity set. Our Lego-cluttered minds couldn't handle the adults' conversations so we took refuge in the Catholic faith-well, our version of it anyway.
We found joy in moving the pieces around and putting action figures in place of the holy. While munching on chocolate, I would carefully move the glass pieces around, usually moving the baby Jesus away from his mother and next to the donkey instead. This activity was just as much a part of Christmas as opening presents and eating canolies.
My grandmother would give me a card every Christmas, along with all the other presents I wanted but my parents wouldn't get for me, that was really funny. It became a tradition between the two of us and every holiday we'd exchange these cards, which she would obligingly sign, 'old green face.' Sometimes she'd call me months in advance just to say she'd found the perfect card. Christmas Eve however, was the apex of our exchange.
After presents were unwrapped, candy and Italian pastries eaten, and the youngest children put to sleep in the back room, the night would end with my great grandmother telling anyone who would listen about the time she went and danced with the cowboys. To this day we're not quite sure what that means, but by then the younger kids had fallen asleep, meaning it was time to go.

About three years ago my grandmother sent me that nativity set as a Christmas present. It had been her mother's mother's, and she wanted me to have it. Seeing it lay broken in the box made Christmas seem less meaningful. Careful not to crush more memories, I placed the broken pieces on the dining room table. This wasn't something glue could fix. The pieces were beyond recognition. In her old age, my grandmother had forgotten to wrap the pieces when she shipped them form Connecticut to New Mexico.

My mom and I agreed not to tell her, because since we moved away we don't see her on Christmas. Yet every Christmas Eve she calls and asks me if I've set up the nativity set and she asks if it looks good. Hearing her voice, which is the result of a pack a day habit since she was eighteen, made me question honesty. Though she was nearly three thousand miles away, I could almost smell her. Cigarettes, talcum powder, and sunshine. I had never lied to her before, but prior to this the truth had never been so painful. So with a forced smile I struggle to say, 'Yes grandma, it's beautiful.'

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