My grandma sits on the couch of her living room, and squints around the room. Boxes and trays are stacked precariously on various surfaces. They’re filled with gifts. Not elaborate or expensive ones; the contents of these boxes and trays make it seem more like my Grandma robbed a dollar store. Six-packs of brightly colored pencils drape boxes of off-brand graham crackers arranged like a puzzle. Nail files and a myriad of scented hand soaps have shirked boxes entirely and lounge on the ground a few inches from the door.
She used to have more space for gifts; she used to have an entire room. A room for gifts, a room for wedding dresses and 1980s pantsuits, and a room for scrapbooks. But a two-story, five-bedroom house wasn’t made for a widow midway through her 80s. My mom and her siblings figured that out last year and moved my grandma from her large home with a view of the Puget Sound to a two-bedroom apartment in a senior home. Now my grandma plays Tetris with her gifts in her little living room.
My grandma isn’t a hoarder. In fact, the joy of the material things she has comes from giving them away. I have never been to either of Grandma Elsie’s homes and left empty-handed. On my last visit, she forced me to take home an inexpensive wall clock. She insisted every one of her grandchildren have one, despite every helpless protest. I found them stashed in a large dresser drawer filled to the brim with black clocks. The image looked like the punchline to a joke about buying time.
For my grandma, her penchant for giving gifts isn’t about buying love or affection. When she gives to visitors, she hopes to give them part of the love and appreciation she felt for them while they shared her home. We used to visit Grandma Elsie’s old home and practically trip over boxes labeled with our names and filled to the brim with carefully curated presents. A flashlight for my dad (he’ll need it while walking the dog at night), gardening gloves for my mom (it’s almost spring, you know), a first-aid kit for my sister (she’s living on her own now), and always, always, candy for me. My mom always insists we take the gifts home, no matter how many times we protest that we’ve told our grandma we don’t like peanut butter or a certain color of nail polish. To reject her gifts would be to reject the home she’s shared for a short while.
This is why my grandma didn’t fight her children when they moved her to a senior home. A home isn’t about walls, or doors, or a view, no matter how breathtaking. It’s about how you make someone feel in the space you hold with them. When someone shares your home, their presence is a gift that must be returned. A house is home for all the love and the gifts you have to give.