My mother was a giver. She loved to give to others. Giving was a duty, an opportunity to bless, a pleasure, and a chore, especially at Christmas time and other special events. A few days after her last Christmas I was helping her with something inside her closet and I noticed a whole pile of small wrapped presents. I asked who they were for. She said, “Whoever. I like to have a few extra just in case somebody needs one.”
“A few? There are ten or fifteen here.”
“Well son, you never know if it might be a woman, or a man, a teenager, or a child. I have a variety so everybody can get something they might like. They don’t cost much; I just don’t want anybody to be left out.”
That was my mother, always thinking about others who might need a little attention.
She was also determined to treat her children equally. We each got what we wanted and a little more so that the dollar amounts were equal.
I could never name everything my mother gave me. Most gifts were special for a time and a season because they were what I really wanted, a toy, a brand-name piece of clothing, etc. (There were also those off-brand imitation items I was embarrassed to wear: “I bought it and you are going to wear it.”.) Some were special not because I wanted them but because she put special effort into getting them, a really nice watch comes to mind.
There are three gifts from my mother that I especially cherish. First, I have a high school ring which I have only worn a few times but I value far beyond its gold or youthful symbolism ("Go Vikings"). I didn’t want a high school ring. We were in Alabama; I was a zealot for Christ and the Church of God was a holiness church. Back then we took the Apostles Peter and Paul quite seriously and taught against wearing jewelry. On top of that I was a Johns; my dad didn’t wear jewelry and he wasn’t even saved. It was a waste of money. When it came time to order the ring I told my mom I didn’t want one and she set me straight, “You are too going to get a ring. I bought one for your brother and for your sister, and I am buying one for you. You don’t have to wear it, but you do have to have it.” I love that ring and keep it in a "safe" place, not on my finger.
The second gift I am holding on to is a cheap totem pole. It came from that same commitment to treat us all equally. Actually, it was my last vacation with Mom, Dad, Shirley and Darlene. We went to the Smokey’s and on our last day we were in Cherokee, North Carolina. Darlene and Shirley had each bought a souvenir but I hadn’t seen anything I wanted. I was after all about the enter my junior year of college. It was time to leave and my mother asked me what I had bought. I told her I hadn’t found anything I wanted. I wasn’t interested in a souvenir. She succinctly explained micro economics to me once again. “I bought your sisters souvenirs and you are going to get one too! Do you understand me?”
“OK. You get yourself in that store and you buy yourself a souvenir and make it quick.”
I walked in the store, scanned all the cheap trinkets, most of them made in Japan (not a complement back then), and I picked up a flimsy, wood totem pole. It sits on the top shelf of the bookcase in our TV room. Occasionally I look up, spot it and have a little leap of joy at the memory of my mother and our summer vacations. I wouldn’t sell it for a thousand dollars. (I'll take offers on the ring though.)
The third gift is a set of Craftsman tools she bought me for my eighteenth birthday. The metal chest is a little beaten up now. Most of the tools in it have been added over the years, but some are original to the set. Unlike the ring and the totem pole, that was the most useful present I have ever been given. For decades they could be found in the trunk of my car. I’m not certain what role, if any, my Dad played in selecting the gift. I know it was my mother who bought it and gave it to me. It was always my impression it was 100% her idea. Dad got me his own gift for my eighteenth birthday, but more on that later. The tools were something my mother knew I wanted without expecting, needed without fully knowing how much, and would enjoy and use without end. She was a mother, my mother.
If I took the time I would have to list a multitude of gifts from my mother that were special. These three stand out today. I am thankful for my mother’s giving heart. May I be a little more like her.
January 23, 2010