The Last Word at Christmas

The Last Word at Christmas

A Story by Kherry McKay

A Christmas story about grandpas, grandsons and Scrabble.



The Last Word at Christmas


I would like to stand with Christmas. Instead of it overwhelming me, I’d like to overwhelm it and hold it like a friend. Ho-ho-ho’s should come from my belly this year, for I am as jolly as Santa.

After all, I remember our family Christmases. Why is it that a family decides to remember lost things during the month of lights? My grandfather had remembered a long word. He was playing Scrabble. It was a very long word, and in the middle of its remembrance one of his letters fell to the linoleum floor.

He bent down to get it. And it was at that moment a massive stroke decided to visit him in his apartment like a pall, like the ghost of Future Christmas. He fell over.

My grandma chided him for having too much booze in his eggnog. “Paul! Paul!”

Somehow, as a ten-year-old, I saw the moment more clearly. I knew in a few minutes there would be paramedics and a big hubbub; there would be the circular-red glow of ambulance lights dancing on the ceiling.

The women in my family started to cry " my grandma, my mom. From my chair at the table, I could make out the word that my grandpa was trying to spell. But it could have been several words. There was “Laughter.” When I was sure this was the word he was about to play, my eye caught something else.

He had an 'S' too. I knew my grandpa was an excellent Scrabble player. I knew he could play 'Slaughter.' How, I thought, could “laughter” exist inside the word 'Slaughter?'

I couldn’t take my eyes off the Scrabble board. As I thought about the game, things got crazy. The ambulance people came. Before that, my dad tried to pull grandpa to the couch. My father, who always knew what to do, had a look of horror.

And still I looked at the Scrabble game lit by the Christmas tree lights. I felt if we could just play the rest of the game, nothing much would change. Christmas would come as it was meant to. All would be calm, all would be bright.

There was loud talking. I looked up. My mother was trying to say something to me. Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t understand her words. I looked over to my grandma. They wanted me to move the Scrabble board; to put the card table away and make room for the ambulance people. Everyone was trying to get my attention. They yelled my name, but it seemed like their words came from another world, as if they were on TV and the volume was way down.

“Maybe...,” I said. “Maybe, he was trying for double points!”

“What?” asked my mother.

“He won. Let’s say he won.”

“Sure,” she said. “He won. Now let’s get everything out of the way.”

The rest of the night was filled with strangeness. We drove to the hospital, passing all the houses with Christmas lights and crèches and snowmen. It was quiet in the car. I stayed at the hospital all that night. I didn’t get sleepy like I was supposed to. My sister did, but I didn’t. In the morning, they said my grandpa lived. He was paralyzed on one side of his body for the rest of his life, but he lived.

I told him later I’d figured out the word he was trying to spell the night of his stroke. He seemed to remember it too.

“Grandpa, you were playing 'Slaughter,' right? Weren’t you?”

He looked at me for a long time. Then he said something I’ll never lose sight of. “Double points are great, son, but when confronted with life’s scrabble, try to play 'Laughter.' It’ll keep you in the game.”

He stayed with us for six more Christmases. Each year, we played Scrabble. I watched the words he played at the end of each game. One year it was “Hilarity.” Another year, “Joyous.”

Toward the end of his life, his words got shorter and shorter. The very last Christmas he was with us, he had to have help putting his letters on the Scrabble board. His hands weren’t moving right.

I watched him carefully. He had a chance to win. He let me peek at his letters. He had 'Preachy,' and it was for triple points. But he had an extra 'E.' He started to put his letters up, showing me where he wanted them. Then he paused, finally asking me to take off the 'R,' the 'H' and the 'Y.'

With his last 'E,' he put up a smaller word: “Peace.” He smiled right at me. My grandpa left this world with “Peace” on his mind, not 'Preachy.' And that was my favorite moment of that Christmas and of all Christmases I can remember.

Copyright © 2010 by Kherry McKay



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© 2010 Kherry McKay

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This is the best grandpa story that I heard. Thank you for sharing...

Posted 2 Years Ago

Aww so sweet. These are the memories that make Christmas worth the while.

Posted 7 Years Ago

Congratulations for winning the Heart-Warming-Christmas Contest!


This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This story is spectacular. The word Grandpa was playing serves as a "hook" it carries us ... no, pulls us along to where the dividend is paid. And what a wonderful dividend it is. I have no suggestions other than ... keep writing!

This goes into my favorites.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I love this story! It's a new Christmas classic. Keep writing!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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6 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on December 16, 2008
Last Updated on December 8, 2010
Tags: Christmas, stroke, grandpa, Scrabble
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