Her name was Willie Ernestine and she was my grandmother. She always hated the ‘Willie’ part.
Every summer when my brothers and I were kids, we’d spend a week at her house in Kentucky. She always treated us and our cousins to a night at the local amusement park. She’d pack her pantry with all the things we liked: tiny Hostess doughnuts, Fritos, “co-cola,” and other treats. She always took us for a hike in the woods, which was actually just a vacant lot. The only thing we had to remember to do was to leave her alone every afternoon when her “stories” were on. She was a devoted fan of soap operas and was none too pleased for us to interrupt them.
When I was twenty, I was the first grandchild to get married. Before my wedding, we visited her and she presented me with a gift she’d made in a ceramics class she took. It was a nativity set. She’d made all the pieces and had paid for someone to make the wooden barn. She showed me how she’d engraved her initials into the bottoms of most of the pieces. She lovingly took each one and showed me how she envisioned that it should be set up. As she did so, one of the roof angels fell and broke an ear off the donkey. She was so upset with herself. I tried to reassure her that I loved it all the same.
Thirty years later, that broken donkey’s ear is part of what makes the whole thing so special to me. My kids have dutifully listened to me tell that story every time I set up the nativity set at Christmas. Spoiler alert: One day, one of them will inherit it from me.