When my mother turned sixty, she decided she didn’t need gifts anymore. She had everything she ever needed. If we pushed for suggestions for birthdays and holidays, her response was always, “Oh just some inexpensive earrings would be great. I don’t need a thing, really,” she’d profess. “Save your money!”
For years I searched for a unique gift; something as special as she was to me. I purchased monogrammed gifts, garden items with a special touch, jewelry, expensive designer perfume, a faux fur coat, and many other things. Naturally, she made a fuss over each gift, however it wasn’t until after she passed away that I discovered many of my gifts under her bed untouched.
There was one gift I gave her for her 70th birthday that she cherished. I was determined to find her a gift that would be very special. I came up with a gift of the heart plan. I bought an album, shopped for a special fabric, and had it covered with the fabric and lace edging. There was a spot for a photo front and center. I sent out a questionnaire to family and friends asking them to fill in the following:
My favorite thing about you is______________________
I wish you______________________________________
It was so funny when______________________________
I loved sitting in your kitchen talking about_____________________________
What I learned from you____________________________________________
You are special to me because________________________________________
I requested a photo of them to add to each page of the album.
As the letters came in the mail, I became attached to the album. The mailman would no sooner close the mailbox and I’d run to fetch the letters. In all we had sixty letters filled with warm sentiments, laughter and lots of love. They youngest participant was her three-years-old her grandson. The oldest was seventy-two, a dear old friend from Holland. I recorded music from the fifties to play as background music when she read through the album.
Family and friends arrived on Thanksgiving Day after dinner. She was having dinner at our house and this was a surprise for her. Over thirty people came through our door. Gift bags and brightly wrapped boxed sat before her. I waited to give her my gift last.
Company sat on couches, chairs and even on the floor listening as she read each letter. Laughter filled the room as old memories came to life. She reminisced about when she met my father. She’d told him she was very wealthy and lived in a mansion on the Main Line. He was very surprised to find her splashing in the creek next to her twin home. She and her sisters decided to cool off one hot summer day, when he walked by the creek with his friend. Her sisters howled at the memory.
Some of the stories were quite heart touching. My cousin Jimmy wrote two pages of memories about Aunt Bet.
”I learned from you to look past the faults in people and accept them for what they are. (most of the time…. After all, I am no Aunt Bet!) “From the time I was a kid, I always loved going to visit you.”
My Aunt Hun cut out two ice skaters dressed in fancy outfits. She then inserted her face in one and the other face was my moms. They hit Memory Lane with stories of dancing like Ginger Rogers and laughing until they could barely breathe.
Aunt Fran wrote that her favorite thing about her is, “You remained a true B-A-B (Big Ass Birmingham, their nickname growing up) Then she wrote, “You are special to me because you taught me how to climb any mountain, no matter how tall.” She was my mom’s youngest sister.
My husband wrote that he loved her famous stew dinner and how thankful he was that she was his mother-in-law. “You like me more than my mom does,” he joked.
It was so funny when. “I could barely walk for a month after dancing with you at a wedding and the doctor recommended surgery.”
Grandkids: “I wish you would live forever.”
“I remember when you went down the slide and landed on your butt!”
“I wish you and Pop could be together again. He’d be better here than in Heaven.”
“It was so fun rollerblading in the kitchen with you.”
“It was so fun when I slept in your bed and you snored.”
“I wish we could say damn and hell at our house.”
“Remember when we put fish in your pool?”
“Remember that weekend we stayed over and we bonded? Best weekend ever!”
I wrote, “I love sitting in your kitchen talking about how we are the only sane people left in the family.”
I told her, “You are a blessing and an angel in my life.”
What I learned from her was, “Be nice. Be kind. Share. Believe…and never miss a Tupperwear party.” She never disappointed family invitations.
I actually suggested we share custody of the album. It had become such a sweet collection of her life. There was no doubt; this woman was loved, adored and respected deeply by everyone in our family. She kept it on her coffee table to share memories when company visited.
When my mom passed away, we settled up her estate and personal items. My only request was the album. It held everything I wanted to remember about her life. The giggles, the tears and the ever loving kitchen table discussions. To me it was more valuable than jewelry or crystal place settings.
It holds a place of honor in my home.
If you have an older person in your life who has everything, you might want to consider giving them a special gift too. The cost is minimal and it’s really a double edge gift. You will get so much enjoyment putting the album together. Even better is you’ll see the person in the eyes of others. It’s delightful!
I suggest you get a cup of tea and plan to sit for a while to enjoy the reaction the book will bring.
It really is priceless.