Before You Ever Open the Gift
My mom enjoyed life. She was more of a kid than I ever was—even in her elder years. She walked barefoot and smelled every flower she passed. She loved roller coasters and funnel cakes and anything that even smelled like it might be an adventure. She never met a baby or a puppy or a kitten that she failed to cuddle. And Christmas was one of her favorite things.
Cookies and candies and Christmas decor covered every available square inch of the house, and even in years when the ends never seemed to meet, the pile of presents under the tree stood hip high and overflowed to the middle of the room. She saved money all year long for those gifts, and she thought long and hard about them , doing her best to choose something we would love.
Eventually, after her driving skills declined from their baseline horrible status to completely intolerable and we told her we preferred she no longer drive, the gift-giving became even harder. Then, she not only couldn’t come and go as she pleased and shop at will, but she also couldn’t go to work anywhere to get a little extra money here and there for Christmas. Despite the challenges, Mama continued to enjoy the season and the hunt for the perfect gift.
While I’ve always had a healthy appreciation for gifts, I don’t think I completely grasped the entirety of their significance until I watched Mama overcome all these obstacles to continue to give Christmas gifts to the ones she loved. What the grandkids saw when they opened presents was a toy or a shirt or a book or sometimes even some folded cash if she knew that’s what one of them really wanted. What they most often failed to see was Mama saving change for eleven months and planning how she’d make sure she got enough trips to the store because she wore out too quickly to get it all done in just two or three. They didn’t see her match receipts to make sure she spent equal amounts on each of them down to the dollar. Going feverishly to their next wrapped box, they missed her waiting to open her own gifts because she wanted to see the joy in their faces as they opened theirs. Gnarled fingers and stiff shoulders struggling to wrap boxes. Grocery store trips and days of cooking for minutes of eating—but every member of the family getting a favorite dish even when it meant two pans of fudge because some of us like nuts and others don’t. Waiting for someone to get the now small and artificial tree out of the attic so she could decorate it. Weeks of sitting alone in a house decorated for a few hours of being surrounded by her beloved family. The kids didn’t see all of that boxed up under the little sparkling tree. Come to think of it, I don’t suppose I really understood it all either until the last couple of years.
As I have understood it more fully, though, I have had an increasing regard for anything given to me—a note, a text, a call, a small section of time, a gift—anything. I find myself grateful not just for the thing itself but also for someone’s having thought of me, for the time spent and inconvenience gone to to give me something, for the kindness of the gesture. In this world where time seems to be at an increasing premium and simple things seem to be overlooked, I want to value both more and in doing so, value the people in my life more and show them that appreciation.
So next time you receive a little something, I propose you consider the series of effort and events that brought that bit of love to your hands and take a moment to send a heartfelt “thank you” to that person who loves you.
I hope you have a beautiful Christmas filled with love and happiness and gratitude. Thank you for your time spent here. I promise I never take it for granted.