The Christmas season provides an opportunity to remember those whose presence matters most to us and to shine a light on them.

Growing up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, was a wonderful experience, as both sets of my grandparents lived close by. As an adult, I realized how fortunate I was to be so close to my maternal and paternal grandparents. Both sets were terrific and loved me more than I deserved.

My maternal grandparents lived in nearby Tulsa.  Every Sunday after church, the Randalls headed to Granddad and Granny’s house to practice the sin of gluttony by consuming Granny’s delicious roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, homemade rolls, and sweet tea. It was a little bit of heaven every Sunday after hearing a Southern Baptist preacher talk about hell for an hour.

My paternal grandparents lived in Broken Arrow with us. They showered my brother and me with love, often taking us for hamburgers and ice cream after ball games. Gigi, a nickname given to distinguish between the two grandmothers, would take us shopping for our birthdays, ensuring we donned the latest fashion. Papa was always on the sidelines watching my baseball games and my brother’s wrestling matches.  

Every Christmas, we enjoyed lunches and dinners with both sets of grandparents. They spent too much on my brother, cousins, and me, but we were always thankful for their generosity. They truly taught us the virtues of sacrifice and giving to others.  

Randall Christmases were filled with laughter and joy as the family ate, drank, exchanged presents, and attempted to stay clear of politics. However, one moment still sends me to the front door each Christmas morning even as an adult.  

My younger brother was notorious for waking the family up on Christmas morning at an ungodly hour. He was also known for the clever ways he brought the family out of our Christmas Eve slumber.  One year, we jumped from our beds at 5:00 a.m. as the smoke alarm announced Christmas morning’s arrival. 

Regardless of how Christmas morning arrived, the ritual was always the same. My brother and I were told to remain upstairs so my parents could arrange presents and set the mood. Setting the mood meant starting a fire, putting Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper” on the record player, starting the coffee pot, and making certain the batteries for the camcorder were charged.

Before we were given the “green light” to open gifts, I had one responsibility each Christmas morning.  My dad would instruct me to “Check on Papa” before entering the den. This may sound like a strange order given to a child, but “checking on Papa” became part of my Christmas morning routine.

“Checking on Papa” meant looking through the window to see if my grandfather was sitting in his car in front of our house. There were very few times when he missed our Christmas mornings. I think he enjoyed the excitement of children ripping open Christmas gifts and shouting at the top of their lungs, “Look what I got!”

As I peeked through the window staring into the dark street, I spotted his old blue Ford Taurus. After I spotted him, I was supposed to flicker the front porch light on and off to let him know we were awake. However, I would always wait for another sign letting me know Papa was ready for Christmas morning.

Staring deep into that Ford Taurus, I could see the embers of his cigarette glow, revealing his wide face as he anticipated all the excitement awaiting him.  Only after seeing those glowing embers did I walk to the light switch to notify Papa that Christmas morning had arrived.

As soon as the patio light flickered, Papa’s car door would open, and he would make a beeline to the front door. Christmas morning was here as shouts of joy and laughter consumed the Randall house, all under the watchful eyes and beaming smile of my Papa.

Every Christmas morning since my boys were little, Missy and I would set the mood for Christmas morning like my parents did for us – except that we replaced Willie Nelson with Harry Connick Jr. As we would get ready and the boys would shout down from the stairs wanting to know what Santa had brought, I found myself always drifting to the window, sneaking a peek and looking for the glow of embers.

Papa died years ago. I miss him a great deal. And even though I never see the glow of embers any longer, I feel his presence with me every Christmas morning. While he gave great presents like baseball gloves and bats, his greatest present was his presence on Christmas morning.  

May you and yours see embers of your own this Christmas morning. Let’s all remember the greatest gifts we can give each other are not wrapped under a tree, but the joy of being together and creating memories.  

Merry Christmas!

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