“Grandma’s Red Wagon,” Friend, Dec. 1991, 4
The problem with Christmas this year was what to do about Grandma. She’s usually the one to solve the problems, not cause them, so everyone was caught off guard when she made her announcement at Thanksgiving dinner.
“I don’t want anyone to give me any Christmas presents this year,” she said. “I don’t need anything, and I’ve run out of places to put things.”
“Oh, Mom,” Dad said, “you don’t mean that.”
“Yes, I do,” she insisted. “All my cupboards and closets and drawers are full. My china cabinet hasn’t one square inch in which to put another knickknack, and I have enough perfume to last until the millennium. I’m going on a diet, so I don’t want any fattening food around. When I say I don’t want any gifts, I mean it!”
We all knew she did. When Grandma got that tone in her voice, no one argued. She wasn’t angry, just firm.
The hard part was that everyone wanted to give Grandma something. She was one of our favorite people. If you had a wild wish for something silly, or frivolous, or just plain dumb, you could count on her to understand and come through with it. If you needed something comfy or cozy or cute, she made it for you. No matter what lopsided, glue-splotched project you brought home from school, she loved it, praised it, and hung it on her bulletin board. She had as many friends as a dandelion has petals, and she was always doing fun and thoughtful things for them. Everyone remembered her at Christmas.
When she said, “No presents this year,” everyone in the family recognized that Grandma was going to be a problem. They met at our house to decide what to do about her. As the oldest of the brothers and sisters, Dad led the discussion. “What are we going to get Grandma for Christmas this year?” he asked.
She said she didn’t want anything,” Mom reminded him.
“Surely she didn’t mean that,” Aunt Gracie said.
“I think she did,” Uncle Bob said.
“We’ll just have to think of something she will want,” Dad insisted.
“Why?” asked Uncle Jack.
“Because it’s Christmas, that’s why,” Dad answered.
Aunt Nan thought she must have some secret desire. Uncle Bob didn’t think she’d ever tell, if she did.
“Then we’ll have to figure it out,” Dad challenged.
“I know what it is,” I said.
No one heard me. They talked about microwave ovens, clock radios, and electric skillets.
I tugged on Dad’s coat. “Dad,” I whispered, “I know what she’d like.”
“Don’t bother me now, Janie,” he whispered back. “I’m busy.”
They talked about this and that and everything else and didn’t come even close to guessing the right thing. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, so in the middle of the confusion, I shouted, “She wants a red wagon!” Then I ran from the room before anyone could get mad at me for interrupting. When I listened through the heater to see what they thought of my idea, everyone was laughing.
“Well that’s one way to make sure there is something for Janie to play with when she goes to Grandma’s house,” Aunt Gracie said.
I gave up and went to play.
Later, when the uncles and aunts had gone home, Dad asked me what was the big idea shouting out like I had.
“Because Grandma does want a red wagon.”
“What makes you think so?” he asked.
“Because she always borrows mine,” I told him. “She comes over to get me to help her in her yard, and she says, ‘Can we use your wagon?’ and we put it in the back of her car and use it to haul plants or weeds or other things, and then she brings it back. The last time I was over there, she said, ‘I always wanted to have a wagon when I was little, but I never got to because I was a girl. In those days girls had their toys and boys had theirs. The only way I could take my dolls for a ride was to borrow my brother’s wagon. But it wasn’t mine, and I’ve always wanted one.’”
“Grandma already has that big wheelbarrow,” Dad reminded me. “Grandpa bought it for her birthday the year before he died.”
“But it tips the plants over, and when she gets to where she’s going, they’re all in a mess. Besides, it’s almost too big for her to handle. She’s tough, but she’s not very tall.”
“You have a point,” Dad said. “But a red wagon for a grandma?”
“Why not?” I wanted to know.
“It seems so silly.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think it’s a neat idea.”
Well, everyone was supposed to watch Grandma and listen to her and see if they could figure out what she really wanted for Christmas. All they found out was that she didn’t want anything. She kept reminding them over and over again.
I couldn’t understand why no one took my idea seriously, because I could see more and more ways it would be convenient for Grandma to have that wagon she always wanted. She could take it to the grocery store on nice days when she wanted a little exercise, to the post office with packages, or just out to the street with her garbage can in it. And it would be perfect for her to pull along as she worked in the garden. I’d even figured out a little rack to hold her trowel, scratcher, scissors, and snail bait. The rack would fit in the front of the wagon and leave plenty of room for plants or weeds. I knew that she would love it.
Finally, because they really couldn’t think of anything else, the family members decided to chip in and buy the biggest, reddest, fanciest wagon they could find for Grandma. The handle was just the right length, and the wheels rolled along so easily that it seemed to be floating. It was beautiful!
They decided to leave it in the backyard because she was so determined not to have any presents under the tree.
“She’ll notice it out the window,” Aunt Nan said, “and if she doesn’t like it, we won’t be embarrassed, because she’ll think it belongs to one of the children.”
But I wanted to make sure that she knew the wagon was hers, so I painted “Grandma” on it in big white letters.
I was the one who got to sneak it out of the car and put it behind the house on Christmas Eve.
Christmas morning came, and I didn’t want to open my packages until I found out how Grandma felt about her present. It would be an awful day for her if she didn’t like it, because there wasn’t one gift wrapped up for her.
It wasn’t far to her house, so I hopped onto my bike and rode over. She saw me coming out the front window, waved, and threw open the door to yell. “Hurry, Janie! Hurry!”
She sounded so desperate that I wondered if she was having a heart attack, and when I got closer and saw the tears running down her cheeks, I felt terrible. She must be awfully sad or mad! I thought. But then I saw that she was smiling!
“You’ll never believe it, Janie!” she cried. “After all these years, I got my wagon! It was sitting right out there in the middle of the back lawn.”
“Wow!” I said, “That’s super!”
“I thought I didn’t want a thing this year,” she went on, “but someone knew exactly what I’d like.”
“I wonder who it was,” I said, trying to sound innocent.
She grabbed me in a big hug, and I snuggled close to her.
“Someone who prints just like you do,” she whispered.
I never could fool Grandma.