The Most Beautiful Ugly Christmas Ornament

Pentecostal Evangel Magazine

I met her when I was assigned to her case.  I was to prepare her meals, do light housekeeping and just keep her company.  Gretis Morris’ apartment was the “grandmother” suite attached to her daughter’s house in Columbus, OH.  Her daughter and son-in-law took good care of Gretis but, because they were both full-time teachers, needed someone to come in one day each week to help out.

Mrs. Morris was from West Virginia and spoke often of her home there and the friends she had made throughout her 78 years of life.  She was kind, giving and loving.  She accepted me as family almost immediately. 

Through her stories, I felt the warmth and friendship of her small Appalachian community through the very lean years, and the joy of prosperity in the occasional windfall.  The camaraderie in the “holler” village she described rivaled that of Walnut Grove in the Little House series. 

When the company through which I worked began to demand more of my time, I had to quit.  My contract had stated that I could not work independently for any of their clients – and receive payment.  I spoke with Mrs. Morris and decided I wanted to continue to help her for free.  I would come when she called to say she needed me.

Because my grandmother had died on December 15th 11 years earlier, she had become my new “Gramma”.  My children occasionally accompanied me to her house and she loved them as a grandmother, as well.  Her kindness filled the void they felt, as their grandparents lived several hours away. 

We had great times together.  I would repot her houseplants, clean her house, rearrange her pantry, change her bedding, pluck her chin hairs and listen to her stories of a hard life in the hills of Appalachia.  Her quiet lessons penetrated my heart, marriage and parenting style, without my knowledge.

Each Christmas we would exchange gifts.  She traditionally bought me the same gift she bought her daughters: a nightshirt, floral slip-on sneakers, potholders and the like.  I adored each and every one, feeling like part of the family.

One Christmas she sent the gift home with me.  At home I opened my package and found, alongside the gift, a little ball of white tissue paper containing an old, faded pink glass tree ornament.  It was quite ugly.  It was scratched and tried its ugly best to resemble a small pinecone.  Surely it was a mistake, I thought.

When I spoke with her next I asked her if she knew she had accidentally put an ornament in the box.  “Oh, I just thought you’d like to have it,” she said.  I thanked her for it and put it away.  “Maybe I’ll use it next Christmas,” I thought.

Another year passed.  One week Mrs. Morris didn’t call.  She sometimes missed a week but when the second week passed and she still hadn’t called, I became concerned.  I phoned her daughter and was informed that Gretis was in the hospital and that they didn’t expect her to live.

 When I went to the hospital to visit her, she smiled weakly at me.  With eyes half opened she softly thanked me for coming.  

We had always enjoyed open conversations about our Lord and His goodness through the years.  Leaning over her now in her hospital room I asked her if she had Jesus in her heart and she nodded “yes”.  It was December and I told her that I thought the best way to spend Christmas was with the Christ-child Himself.  She smiled and nodded.  Three days later, on December 15th, Mrs. Morris, my second Gramma, died.  They buried her in Clendenin, WV and I was unable to attend the services.

I didn’t feel much like decorating our house that Christmas.  When I finally got to my Christmas tree ornaments I found that ugly, old pink pinecone.  I thought of the many Christmases it had seen in the mountains of West Virginia; happy Christmases with family; stressful Christmases swallowed up in want.  Suddenly I realized why she had given it to me.  I now saw it as the most beautiful ornament I’d ever laid eyes on and carefully placed it at the top of our tree, close to the trunk so it wouldn’t fall.

It has become my most treasured ornament.  I fondly remember Mrs. Morris each year as I lovingly place it on the tree.  Each year I pray that, in the year to come, I will touch at least one life the way she touched mine.  That old pink ornament shines in the soft glow of the twinkle lights.  It shines down on our family each year as we celebrate the birth of Christ together.  It encourages me to let the love of God shine through me as it did through Mrs. Morris.  It is clearly the most beautiful ornament on our tree!

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