_ I’m nine years old, well eight and a half but pretty much nine. Any closer to nine and I might as well say nine. I never know what to say when someone asks how old I am close to my birthday because then you have to explain that you’re nine but ten in a week and then grownups always laugh and rub your head and say, “Well aren’t you cute?”
It’s Christmas, which is my favorite because it’s like your birthday except mom doesn’t invite your friends to a party but tell them no need to bring gifts. Jesus wanted us to have gifts and mom can’t tell him no need to give us anything because he’ll tell Santa to do it anyway, that’s how much he loves us. Daddy doesn’t seem to care what Santa gives us, which is weird because it’s free stuff and Daddy likes free stuff more than any person in the world; he even likes to save those ketchup packets from McDonald’s
instead of buying it from the grocery store. He just sits on the sofa reading the paper and when I tell him look at all the new outfits my Barbies have he lowers the paper a little and his eyebrows arch up all bushy and he says, “Wonder how much that set back Santa?”
I never knew Santa had to pay for stuff, but mom says he does which is why we might not get as much this year because the whole world is poor. Santa too. I don’t care as long as I have Gramms' present; she always gets the coolest things. One time she got me a box for my Barbies' jewelry, except it’s a puzzle so there’s a secret way to get in that my friends don’t know. Melissa always asks me, but I say it’s a puzzle, you have to figure it out for yourself. No one can figure it out for themselves, not even me but I have the directions, which I hide under my mattress.
Melissa is always asking to be Malibu Barbie, too. “I’m Malibu Barbie,” I tell her. “You can be Beach Barbie.” Then she wants to marry Ken, but everyone knows that Ken wants a lady and Beach Barbie wears outfits that a lady wouldn’t wear.
This year Gramms told me she had a special surprise for me, even better than a Barbie. I don’t know what could be better than a Barbie. My brother, Thomas likes her presents too. He’s twelve and a boy so she always gives him weapons like nanchakus and dad always says, “Thanks, June Bug. He could use some more weapons.” He calls her June Bug because her name is June just like mine, and she calls him Cricket. They
started doing it when he was little. I want to be June Bug, and sometimes Gramms says one day I will be, but I don’t know how long it’s going to be.
Gramms always comes over on Christmas day to watch us open our presents from Santa. She always takes forever, and we have to wait on the stairs while Daddy takes a billion pictures. He also thinks it’s funny to go around and look without us. “I don’t think he came,” Daddy says, but we know he’s just pulling our legs. Finally, Gramms comes in and asks, “What are you waiting on me for?” Then Thomas is flying down the stairs to get there first, which is fine by me because I like to save my presents until
everyone else has gone.
After Santa Gramms gives her presents. Even Daddy puts down the paper and joins in on this. I wait until everyone else has gone, and then I carefully pull off the wrapping paper. Inside my box is the most beautiful doll anyone has ever seen. She has long blonde hair and deep blue eyes just like me. Gramms says she had it custom-made from Sweden and that she sent my picture to them, which is why it looks like me. I call her Baby June and everyone tells me yes, she is the prettiest doll in the world, except for Thomas who’s too busy playing with the wooden swords Gramms gave him. A beautiful silver brush comes with Baby June, and Mom tells me not to brush her hair too hard or it will fall out.
We eat breakfast after presents, and when we finish Daddy goes in and turns on a game. I don’t know who would want to play on Christmas. They must be bad and not get presents from Santa, which would be sad if it were true. I think they’d be happier if they got presents; I think that maybe some people have a hard time seeing love and it helps them out when they’ve got a nice present to prove it’s there. Sometimes Gramms will watch the game with Daddy, though I don’t know why. I try to watch it too, but it’s so boring. I don’t know if Gramms actually likes it, I think she just does it because Grandpa died when Daddy was real young and so he never had a dad to watch sports with.
Gramms let's me lay my head in her lap, and she plays with my hair while I play with Baby June. "We'll have to make sure she eats her snow peas," I say because Daddy says snow peas are what make my eyes so blue, and everyone agrees. Gramms says she'll need lots of beauty rest. Daddy does this thing where he lifts just one eyebrow which I really want to learn and says, "I'm sure she'll be a good girl and do her homework without having to be asked." He pretends like Baby June has homework even though I know he's actually talking about me. Gramms chuckles and asks Daddy for the funnies, which is the only part of the paper we like. She reads me "Family Circus" and I wonder what they got for Christmas.
It feels like all we do all day is eat, and when I fit the last bit of cookies into my tummy Gramms says she should be heading out. She grabs the presents that we gave her, but it's not much compared to what we got, just some old pictures and seashells because Gramms loves the beach more than anything. She gives us all hugs and then kisses Daddy on the cheek and says, "Take care, Cricket," and Daddy says, "You too, June Bug."
She's climbing into her car when I realize I didn't thank her again for my present so I run barefoot outside with the snow clinging to my feet. Gramms rolls down the window and tells me to go back inside before I catch cold. I give her a kiss and tell her I love my Baby June. She smiles at me and says, "I love my Baby June to," then drives away while I wave goodbye.
A few days later, Christmas is over and it’s sad because you don’t want it to end. Mom tells me and Thomas to come into the kitchen, she has something to tell us. She looks so sad and her voice cracks when she starts to say, “Your Gramms went to sleep last night and she didn’t wake up this morning.” I can feel my eyes burning with salt, and Mom hugs us close and tells us that Gramms is in a better place now with Grandpa, that we should be happy for her. I want to feel happy for her, but I can’t because I want her here. Then I start to think that’s selfish. I tell myself what Mom said, that now she’s with Grandpa, but then I remember she must miss us like we miss her and I start to cry all over again.
At the funeral everybody sings "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" and says nice things about Gramms and we laugh and think about how much we loved her. I wonder what Gramms is doing up in heaven and I say a prayer wishing that heaven is near the beach so she can hear the ocean when she's trying to sleep at night. I'm doing real good with being a big girl and not crying and being too sad. At the end when we sing Gramms favorite song, "Silent Night", I peek around at Daddy and he’s crying. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever seen him cry, and it makes me cry too.
Daddy's been back to work, but today's Sunday which means after church he comes home with us. We all eat a big lunch of macaroni salad and fried chicken and green beans, and when we finish Daddy goes into the den to watch a game. I sit with him for a while but I get bored so I go upstairs to play with Baby June.
Later, when I come back down, Mom’s washing dishes in the kitchen and Daddy is sitting on the couch reading the paper. Silent, I stand there watching for a while until he lowers the paper. He rubs my head and goes back to reading.
“Cricket,” I say. Eyes welling up with tears, he sets the paper down in his lap.
He pulls me close and hugs me tight.
“Cricket,” I say again, feeling his heaving chest against my head as he tries not to let me see his silent sobs.
“June Bug,” he says.
“Cricket, I love you,” I say, too young to understand just what it is I’m saying.