In my bedroom, I have an old wooden stool. The paint is chipped, and the legs are marred with scratches and dents, probably from being dropped over the years. You can see where glue has been added, likely from my dad repairing it years ago. But my name is still there—clearly painted in blue cursive. My grandma’s handwriting. On the bottom of the stool is the date, March 1987. My third birthday.
For years, I left the stool at my parents’ house, where it stayed in the same spot, nestled under the piano.
But a few years ago, I decided it was silly to leave it there when I hadn’t lived there in so long. So I brought it home.
When Rhett turned one, there was a package at our mailbox, and inside was his own stool. My grandpa had cut the wood, and the cows and mountains were painted by my grandma.
Don’t grandparents always seem like they are the same age your whole life? Or is that just me? When I think back to my grandparents over the years, they always had white hair. And seemed, well, old. (I suppose when you’re a kid, everyone else seems old.)
But, it wasn’t until the last few years that I felt like my grandma was old. There was a shift. The multiple heart surgeries and medications and lack of oxygen during the previous ten years, results of her congestive heart failure, were starting to show.
A few years after Rhett’s stool arrived in the mail, another one came for Allie on her second birthday.
Their stools shine brightly from the fresh shellac, the paint not yet chipped from time compared to mine. But, each time they drag their stools around the house, stand on them, and stack books on them—they are slowly making their mark. Just like I did.
The year Nora was born, my grandma’s health had really started to decline. She was on oxygen all the time; the soft sound of the pump could be heard whenever I was at their house. Nora’s first birthday came and went. A small part of me hoped a package would arrive for her, just like her siblings. But, each time we went to Wyoming for a visit, the underlying tone was, “this could be the last time you see your grandma.” So, I wasn’t too surprised when a new stool didn’t arrive at our house.
My grandma passed away peacefully at home in early December, my grandpa by her side.
On Christmas Eve, we gathered at my grandparents’ house, the tradition we have had my whole life. Except for this time, of course, my grandma wasn’t there.
I swear, though, when I opened the front door, I could hear her talking, her laugh as she met me at the top of the stairs. I thought of the countless times she was there, in a white blouse, a tissue tucked up her sleeve, kissing me on the cheek as I came up the stairs. Always greeting me with, “Hi, Peanut.”
But she wasn’t.
Then, the chaos of opening presents with 23 people began. Wrapping paper filled the center of the room as the shrieks from the kids opening their gifts filled the rest of the space in the house.
I sat watching, trying to keep track of who received what gift from who. The kids tore off the wrapping paper, not worried about the tag.
Someone handed me a package, and it was addressed to Nora from Great Grandma Joan. I told Nora this gift was for her, and she started tearing the paper. The shape and size didn’t give away what was inside.
The tears started to roll down my cheeks before the present was even unwrapped.
I wiped the tears from my eyes as I ran my fingers along the smooth wood. I traced the delicate flowers around each corner.
My grandpa told me that my grandma had wanted to make Nora her own stool, but she didn’t have the energy. He hoped this stool she had made at some point over the years would be okay.
Because it was never just about a stool.