MONIQUE BATSON — Christmas with family, friends is the best gift of all

Published 12:05 am Friday, December 23, 2022

During a recent Rotary meeting, we were asked to each share our favorite Christmas memory.

For days leading up to that moment, I stressed over what I would say. To be honest, that’s what Christmas has been for me for as long as I can remember — stress. We’ve become so caught up in gifts and decorations that we often forget to slow down and enjoy the time with those who mean the most.

That, for me, largely included my maternal grandparents.

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My grandmother was a 6-foot-tall, 200-plus pound attitude and voice that carried across towns. She laughed big, loved big and lived big. My grandfather didn’t speak often (Grandma didn’t leave room for a lot of conversation), but he lived for those he loved, even if he never actually said it. Every time I’d tell him I loved him, he’d answer with, “you too, baby girl.”

Christmas at their house was an event. My grandmother would string lights across anything that sat still. Her tree was always decorated eccentrically. For example, she was a master at the Walmart crane game and kept her ever-growing collection of stuffed animals in a laundry basket.

One year, as the basket overflowed, she took the stuffed animals, ran hooks through them and used them to adorn the tree.

Because she was the youngest of 11 children, I had a plethora of great aunts and uncles and cousins that would gather at Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Most years we would have to move the furniture out of the living room in order to put enough tables and chairs to fit everyone who attended.

Grandma took pride in her gift giving. She was addicted to QVC, so we almost always had the up and coming toy of the year before anyone else. She was also a fan of the casino, so it was common to open something with “Coushatta” on the side.

My grandfather, being the “yes, dear” man that he was, would always buy Grandma an extravagant gift, but didn’t have the desire to wrap it. He would toss it in a garbage bag, tie the top and hand it over.

One year my grandmother turned it around on him by spending three hours on Christmas Eve sitting in a garbage bag with a bow on her head as a gift to him.

When my brother was a little older than 1, Grandma had a headache on Christmas Eve and had to lie down for a bit before joining us. She suffered from constant migraines, so no one blinked an eye when we heard she needed rest.

Until Santa Claus stopped by, and I got upset because she wasn’t there to see it.

If I had been older than 5, I likely would have snapped when I went to go wake her and my mother stopped me. And I definitely would have known when my brother — screaming at an octave that would shatter glass — pulled a chunk of Santa’s beard off with his hand.

But Grandma heard all about it when she woke up minutes after Santa left.

That woman had climbed in and out of the bedroom window.

Thanksgiving was spent at my Aunt LaWanda’s house in Beaumont, where Grandma, her siblings, and their families also gathered. She would sit in the exact same spot of the exact same couch ever year and watch the Cowboys play. And only God could help you if you stood too long in front of the television.

She was as passionate about the Astros and Nancy Grace, the latter of which was on the television the morning she passed away. It was June 12, 2010. I got to the house around 7 a.m. and my mother, who was Grandma’s primary caretaker, laid on the mattress she kept beside the bed to rest. I sat next to my grandmother with my head on her chest, holding her hand and listening as her heartbeat and breathing slowed until it stopped.

The following September, my grandfather was admitted to Harbor Hospice in Beaumont. One day I stopped by on my lunch break so my mother could run some errands, and as I had done one year prior with his wife, I sat by the bed holding his hand not knowing he would pass away as I did so.

I never realized how much of my Christmas spirit came from my grandparents until they left us. Afterward, there were no large family gatherings. Eventually all of her surviving siblings also passed. Cousins got older, married and moved away. And now, as my children alternate years between my house and their father’s house, my holidays are often spent in part alone.

When people ask what I want for Christmas, the answer is always “nothing.” And I truly mean it. Because the best gift I could receive is for someone to take the time they would spend on me and instead devote it to being with loved ones.

I hope each of you have a wonderful Christmas filled with family, friends, and fellowship. That, in the end, is the best gift of all.

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.