I have a birthday this month and I won’t tell you my age, but will give you a hint. It’s a number the Chinese consider very lucky and there are two of them, and if you put them on their side, you get infinity—and beyond. Anyway, birthdays always remind me of gifts and so here are some.
When my eldest son John was eighteen months old, he was “gifted” with a new sister. She was adorable. And that’s not just my prejudice. My father claimed there was one beautiful baby born, and every mother had it. John had been that beautiful baby once, and now he had a sister. When I took the children out for a walk, people stopped us on the street to rave about the “beautiful baby.” John always stood politely by. One day, we went for a walk with my father. Later that day, he returned with gifts. He had a token gift for Mary, but a box for John. “Open it,” he said, and John did. There was a sheriff’s hat, a badge, and a red bandana. Now John always wore hats. We had no idea why, for his father never wore one. But John had a hat for every occasion. When Howdy Doody was on, John wore his Howdy Doody hat. Next was Cowboy Bob, and John raced into his bedroom to retrieve his cowboy hat. He had a mailman’s cap, fireman’s helmet, football helmet, baseball cap, a whole repertoire of hats.
John was delighted with what was in the box and my father had him put on the hat, badge, and bandana. “Let’s take another walk,” he said. While I bundled up the baby, my father and John had a whispered conversation. Soon we were on the sidewalk and a woman came up to us. “What a beautiful baby,” she said. My father nudged John who shyly spoke up and pointed to his chest. “Sheriff’s badge,” he said. The woman immediately turned to him. “What a nice badge.” She then said nice things about his being the big brother to this beautiful baby. I realized. John would have no need of envy now, for my father had given him a priceless gift, one of personal value and belonging. John was no longer a beautiful baby. He was now the big brother, a role he has played graciously.
That Mary, who grew up to be a beautiful person, gave me many gifts. One of my favorites was when she was grown and on her own, I loved going to visit her and take her to lunch and dinner. It was such a treat for me to pick up the tab. Several years after she was married, I visited. We went to lunch and when the check was delivered, I reached for it. But Mary got there first. “No, no,” I said. “My treat.”
She smiled sweetly and said, “No, Mom. Let me have the blessing.”
A precious gift to me.
Son Bill gave me many gifts, but my favorite was one about organizing, one of my weakest attributes. Bill was an expert. He had set me up with a new organizing system for my learning center, one he had used successfully on some work he’d done in New York. After several weeks on one of our calls, he asked how it was going. “It’s not,” I said. “The system doesn’t work.”
Bill laughed. “Oh, the system works. You don’t.”
Oh, he was so right.
My youngest son Doug is amazing. He is the most able at living in the present of anyone I know. I started learning from him when he was a teenager. He could see the writing on the wall and would tell me about it in no uncertain terms, calling my attention to truths and facts I had been ignoring (I am the Queen of that famous river Denial). One of the best gifts was when he was about nineteen. I had been asked to do a writing assignment, a rather important one, and didn’t know if I could do it. I called him and was commiserating about the project. “I’m not sure I’m good enough for this,” I whined. “Maybe I should decline.”
His response was quick. “Bullshit, Mom. You can. Just do it.”
I straightened up, thanked him, and began to work.
A gift from my mother, one reluctantly received, came when I was in high school. I was with Mother at the church one Sunday when they were asking for volunteers to set up the community room for a tea. “Oh, Ruth would love to do that.”
I groaned, and one of the women spoke up. “Do you think she can?”
My Mother smiled and patted my knee. “Oh, yes. Ruth can do anything.” And she believed that, lived her life as if that were so. More than once, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps to be that girl for my Mother. Truly, a gift to me.
My father’s gifts are too numerous to even recall. He raised me to be a warrior and I am truly grateful for his love and belief in me.
I am blessed with friends who constantly are gifting me with insightful conversations, tasty morsels for my dinner, and calls and emails just to be in touch. I am truly grateful
Re-gifting is not a new practice. It’s what we did with the three extra silver gravy boats we got as wedding gifts. Many years ago, I found a re-gift that still brings tears to my eyes. I read this in a McCall’s magazine, probably in the 1950s. I cut it out and have saved it these many years. (Don’t know who to acknowledge and thank for the magazine article.)
“In late 1864 a mother wrote a letter to her sixteen-year-old son coming home from four years in the Confederate Army. Randolph Helm had a ‘dark bitterness’ in his soul, he had told his mother, having known war too young and too long. Fifty-five years later the letter was used again, when Randolph’s nephew returned from World War I. It was used a third time when a member of the family came back from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. ‘She put rivets in her tenderness,’ this boy said. The letter is as fresh today as it was when Grandmother Helm wrote it nearly 100 years ago.
“A winter day, 1864. Dear son, I’m glad you’re coming home. You’ll make it in time for spring plowing. If General Lee offers you a mule, don’t be proud. You take it.
“What makes you think I won’t remember you? If you’d been away fifty years I’d remember. I don’t reckon you eat your vittles any different when you’re hungry and still squirm when you say your prayers ‘sif you had fire in your pants.
“You got a deal of bitterness stored up in you for sixteen years. Yes, people lied and cheated and sold each other out, but they’ve been doing it sence the days of Eden. Just you see that you don’t waste yourself hating em. You see, they never laid in ditches covered with water till they wondered if all the world was under water. They never froze till they wondered if all the fire in the world had burned out. They never waited in the dark of night till they wondered if all the light in the world had blown out. They never starved and thirsted and froze and hated and burned and willed to die for something they believed. These things they never done, and you must be easy with em.
“Now, as I’ve told you before, God’s still up there where He’s always been, and He’ll have His way. You watch.
“I’m standing now at the winder looking out at the stars. Just you and God and me. I’ve put your hand in His, and I’m saying a prayer. I’ll write it out so’s you’ll know. (He don’t need to have it writ.) God, here he is, and don’t be too easy on him. Because he’s fit a war and lost an arm he mustn’t get to thinking his work’s done. He’s young and don’t know that work heals and so does forgiving. His dark bitterness won’t get him nothing. Hold his hand, will You, till he finds the light. Now good night, my son, good night. Your mother, Nancy Helm”
If you’ve been reading my blog, just know that you are a wonderful gift to me. Thank you.