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Love the ones you're near
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Al and Jabudah Grossmiller have bought hundreds of toys for children they never will meet.
The Grossmillers do not mind.
They do not need to see a little boy smile as he cradles the soft new bear he didnt know he was getting.
They do not need to hear a little girl giggle with delight as she hugs her cuddly new doll.
It is enough, the couple says, to know that the boy will smile and the girl will giggle.
I dont do it for that kind of personal gratification, Jabudah said. Just the satisfaction of knowing Ive done something.
For many years the Grossmillers, who moved to Baker City from Hermiston in 1995, have donated toys to a local charity just before Christmas.
This year they also contributed a Bakers dozen of stuffed animals (bears mostly) for Baker Citys community Easter egg hunt.
I had a pretty good stack of them, Jabudah said.
She usually does.
Donating toys is not just a holiday tradition for the Grossmillers.
The couple scans advertisements year round, searching for bargains on the soft, cuddly things Jabudah prefers.
When they go down to a pretty low price I have a temptation to buy, she said. I look for things that little kids like.
And then she smiles, looking just a bit guilty.
And maybe things that I like.
Her husband helps, too, his main responsibility, he admits, being to not say no when Jabudah starts clearing the shelves of discount merchandise.
Its a situation that happens often.
I wouldnt say Im picky, would you, dear? Jabudah asks her husband.
You look for bargains, he says, his tone as reasonable as a veteran diplomats.
I do look for bargains, she agrees.
Jabudah certainly has experience in buying trinkets that make children happy.
She has 24 great-grandchildren.
But the nearest one lives in Hermiston, and some of the others are as distant as Hawaii and Tennessee, places too far for her and Al to visit often.
But they shop the sales anyway, for always there are children close by who need a new friend.
Jabudah buys only the simplest of toys. She doesnt like to think of a child whose love for a new toy sours just because a AAA battery ran low on juice.
And she remembers her own childhood, when even a plain toy brought her joy.
When I was young those kinds of things were mighty precious and far between, she said. If youve just got something to love, well, love comes pretty easily, especially from kids.
Jabudah was five years old when her family moved to Baker County in 1928. Her dad operated the Crystal Palace Mine near Sparta, and during her childhood Jabudah also lived at Richland and Virtue Flat and Baker City.
She was one of eight students who attended the Virtue Flat school the only year it was open.
Jabudah said her mother traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the school, and discussed the matter with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Years later, as the mother of five children, Jabudah said she taught her own kids to remember how happy they felt when they received a gift, and to spread that happiness by surprising others with presents when they were able.
I tried to raise my family as giving, loving people, she said.
There are, of course, many ways to give, cash being the most common.
But the Grossmillers would rather donate a doll than a dollar.
When you send money, how do you know its not a scam? Jabudah said. Its pretty difficult for somebody to line their pockets with stuffed toys.
The Grossmillers plan to return to Hermiston soon. Thats where they lived when they were married almost 14 years ago (Jabudahs first husband died; they were married 41 years).
Besides, the winters down in the Columbia Basin are 10 or 15 degrees warmer, Al said, shivering at memories of this last winter barely gone.
So the Grossmillers will have at least one great-grandchild close by, well within easy gift-giving range.
But still they plan to continue their tradition of buying gifts for all those other children, the ones whose names they never will know.
Jabudah can explain why in a single sentence. Its a motto, really, one she and Al molded over their many years of hunting for the bargain that will transform a childs holiday into the happiest of days.
If youre not near the ones you love, you love the ones youre near.