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PJ Mintner Headshot

My Grandmother's Winter Coat

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On October 30, my grandmother passed away. You never want to lose someone you love, and having lost a few people this year, I'm ready to take a break from funerals for a while. My Grandma Mintner was our family historian, and I often feel like I can trace my gift for storytelling to her, and I had the pleasure of sharing a few words at her funeral as a representative of the family. As the election ends and the holidays begin, I wanted to share one last story from my grandmother.

My Grandma Mintner was born in 1924 in St. Louis. Shortly after Grandma was born, her mother passed away, and she moved in with her grandmother. Grandma and my Uncle Bud and Aunt Virginia were raised in their grandmother's home, along with several other children.

When we talk about our recent economic woes, the words "worst recession since the Great Depression" are thrown around pretty regularly. We're all pretty familiar with the idea that the Great Depression was rough. My grandmother's family tried their damnedest to insulate their children from the financial effects of what was a tough time to grow up, and while the children in the family knew things were not easy, they also knew that there was always food on the table and clothes on their backs. While some people were waiting in long lines for measures of assistance and jobs were scarce, my grandma's family somehow were able to scrape by. Grandma would claim that they were lucky; her grandpa and father had jobs the entire time during the Depression.

Even so, there was not much to go around sometimes. Every other year, my grandmother and Aunt Virginia would get a new coat at Christmas. Aunt Virginia, several years her senior, was shorter than my grandma, so they generally were unable to share coats. After wearing a coat for two years, you can imagine how excited young girls would be for something new.

In the mid-1930s, a few of my grandma's uncle's children moved in with the family. Her uncle was out of work due to a health issue, and Christmas would different that year. While that made sense to grandma, she was also excited to get a new coat. In October, Grandma came home from school, and her grandmother said, "Dorothy, it's getting cold, isn't it?"

And Grandma responded, "Yes! But that new coat this year will help with that."

"You know, your uncle's daughter doesn't have a coat..." her grandmother replied.

Grandma, too young, didn't quite know what her grandmother was thinking. Finally, her grandmother asked her if it would be alright to get her cousin a coat, and Grandma would keep her coat for another year.

My grandmother agreed, but was admittedly crushed. It was her year for a coat, and she had been looking forward to a new coat all year. Her old coat was getting too small, was beginning to be worn, and would be missing buttons soon. Prior to Christmas, Grandma's grandmother worked all night on her coat to make it look like new. She had applied new buttons and lace around the collar, and done what she could to make that old navy blue jacket look like a brand new, top-of-the-line winter coat. Grandma woke up on Christmas and opened up her present, never expecting to find a "new" coat, but her eyes lit up, and she had received a new coat that Christmas after all. And, in many ways this lesson that stuck with her for the rest of her life: We're rewarded for our generosity to others. For Grandma, being gracious was a habit that she developed early.

I was reminded of this story from her because I've heard a ton of people sharing what they're thankful for recently. Every day that I've logged into Facebook this month, I've seen people sharing things they're thankful for, ranging anywhere from family to a job, and on any given Saturday, the Kansas State Wildcat football team. (Hey, I have a lot of Facebook friends from the Little Apple, okay?) It's been incredibly refreshing to see people sharing positive thoughts for the world to see.

As a country, we've had a pretty intense period of time where there were seemingly more ungrateful thoughts about electoral politics and those we disagree with than there were messages of thanksgiving for our great community. The messages we see online about being grateful are a small step in the right direction. There's something special about people trying to be "in the moment" in sharing their gratitude with the world. In a world where it seems like nothing is ever enough, it's refreshing to see people talk about what fills them up. While I don't think our differences from this past election have been healed, I do believe that we can heal. Loss doesn't always have to be greeted with anger or sadness. In fact, if you greet loss and differences with grace, you might find that you live in a warmer, brighter world than you ever realized. That's how Grandma saw the world, and she shared the warmth.

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