Last night (December 23rd) around 8pm, my grandma called me with a special Christmas request.
“Will you do me a favor, sissy? Will you buy Grandpa a new atlas and wrap it up and put it under the tree, from Grandma?”
It seemed like a pretty random request. She’s never asked me to buy anything on her behalf, but I know that this is the first year she’s struggled to get out of the house. Pain from a few injuries and arthritis has kept her home more and more. Grandpa, too, has had a tough year. When I flew home a week ago, he looked much more frail than he had in July, when we celebrated his 90th birthday. Like the indestructible man he’s always seemed to be, he hasn’t let that stop him from working construction with my dad.
Feeling honored to have such a task – especially one where I could spend time flipping through map books – I quickly agreed and asked what kind of atlas she wanted to give him.
“It don’t matter. I just want it to be a new one. Every time you kids travel somewhere, he looks it up in his old atlas that he inherited from Grandpa Latham in the 70s. Now you’ve moved to Holland, he can’t find the town where your livin’ or the one where you’re workin’, and he’s flustrated.”
She told me, “You’re the only one I know who goes to bookshops. I don’t know nothin’ about them, so I wanted to ask you to do this for me.”
So last night my husband and I drove to the nearest bookstore and spent time looking at their atlases until we found one that had our new hometown in it as well as large-enough print that Grandpa could read it.
I started writing this post this morning, and I was going to make it about why brick-and-mortar bookshops and print books still matter: because with only one day until Christmas, I would’ve struggled to get an atlas delivered in time. And the one I would’ve chosen from the brief browse I had online before going shopping ended up not having the town where I work in it.
But this morning, as I paused in my writing to wrap gifts, we got a message. Grandma left it on dad’s cell phone early this morning, but he only noticed he had a message four hours later. Grandpa is sick, and Grandma had to rush him to the doctor at 6.45am.
We can’t get hold of her. We don’t know what “sick” means, and we’re clinging to hope because she said “doctor”, not “hospital”. My cousin Will lives with them, and he said everyone was fine when he left for work at 6, so whatever it was must have come on suddenly.
When we got the message, I was in the middle of wrapping the gift I’d bought Grandpa: a tin train full of candies, since he has a sweet tooth. The last present I had to wrap was the atlas.
Wrapping it up, and writing “To Grandpa, With love from Grandma” on the tag made my eyes swell up and my throat scratchy. My grandpa is one of Earth’s finest men, and I don’t need an atlas to tell me that.
So we wait to hear. In the meantime, Grandpa’s atlas is wrapped, sitting under the tree, with love from Grandma.