Heirlooms

"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

of presents~

I must have been about 12 years old when I began babysitting for our neighbors and using my small income to buy gifts for my family. And so I remember setting out with a small purse to find a gift for grandpa one Christmas. I had gotten a ride to the shopping mall in Logansport, back when kids could safely walk through a mall on their own, and spend the better part of a day or evening completely unchaperoned in the shops without any cause for concern.
I remember walking the shops and picking out presents for members of my family. I bought my mom a bottle of perfume that smelled like spearmint. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Spearmint was my favorite of the Wrigley gum flavors in its perfectly clean and gleaming white packaging. And I always preferred spearmint flavored Certs mints over the peppermint, which always seemed much too strong and overpowering a flavor. Years later, I saw that bottle of perfume, unused but undiscarded, sitting in her bathroom, a small reminder of an innocent heart that wanted to give instead of receive. I remember pooling my funds together with my sister to buy our dad a mechanic creeper, so that he could work on our decrepit cars with a bit more ease. We hid it in our closet but I suspect that dad saw it before the big reveal while inspecting our room with his marine-like precision of our a holiday cleaning (Why clean it when you can stuff it all in this convenient and spacious closet?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!).
But when it came to grandpa’s gift that year, I was stumped. I spent hours wandering that shopping mall, looking for the perfect gift for him. I did not have much money left but I really wanted to get him something good, something useful, practical but also of value.

At some point, I was standing just outside of a shoe store and noticed a shoe shine kit in the window. It was the 70s and men still would take the time to shine their shoes and make the old look like new. The kit was $5 and I knew I had found my gift for him. I was excited to give him this kit and proud of myself for finding it for him. He was a blue collar working man, but he had some good shoes for church on Sundays. He would not be the kind of man to spend extra cash on a new pair of shoes when a good spit and polish would make the old new again. Extra cash had so many other uses for working class families. And grandma worked as a shoe saleswoman for years. She would appreciate this gift to grandpa as much as he would. I remember wrapping up his gift and putting a bow on it. I think it was truly the first gift I ever bought for him with my own money.

And so, as I reflect on that Christmas, I also reflect on the presents I have received over the years from my own beautiful girls. Phil always made a point of taking the girls out shopping for a gift for mommy just before Christmas. When Peggy was 3 years old, she gave me a scrub brush and a set of Lisa Frank pencils. The scrub brush was blue and white. The Lisa Frank pencils, like all other Lisa Frank products for those of you who have not raised girls in the 90s, are bright pink with patterns of unicorns and rainbows all over them. Lovely! I remember opening the gifts from Peggy, the look of love and excitement on her sweet little face and the love in my heart for her at that moment. Phil assured me that these gifts were of her choosing, not a hint about my housekeeping skills. Phil told me that he walked up and down the aisles of Walmart with Peggy and these are the items she selected for me. Because my most precocious Peggy always paid attention to everything going on in her little toddler world,  I can imagine that, at some point, I must have been walking around the house saying aloud to myself, “I need a pencil.”

When we moved to Taiwan in 2002, I had a favorite pair of earrings that were my “everyday-go-to” earrings. They were silver hearts that went with everything I could possibly wear. I loved those earrings. At some point early in our move, I lost one of them – so frustrating and annoying! I tore through every room in our tiny Asian apartment trying to find the lost earring . . . sigh . . . gone. Then, at Christmas, our first Christmas abroad, Rachel gave me a pair of earrings- absolutely identical to the ones I loved and had lost. Phil had taken the girls out shopping for me. That Rachel could find a pair of earrings identical to the other lost pair was tremendous if they had been shopping in the U.S. — the fact that she found these while out shopping in Taiwan was  nothing short of miraculous. I still have them. I still love them. Bless her little heart!

My girls have given me so many precious gifts over the years. Most of them cannot be wrapped or perceived with the human eye, but only with a parent’s heart. Priceless to me, my girls. So, I reflect on that shoe shine kit Christmas and remember with some sadness that I never actually gave my gift to Grandpa. Call it what you will– coincidence, fate, dumb luck — but that was the year that grandma had the brilliant idea to give all the men in our family shoe shine kits for Christmas. I sat with my mouth wide open like a bass and watched in dismay as uncles, cousins, father, brother – all opened one after another – shoe shine kits – identical to the one I had bought for grandpa that year. My heart sank. In the mayhem of bodies and bows, gifts and grownups, I made my way to grandma’s tree, retrieved my present for grandpa and pushed through the throng of relatives crowded in grandma’s living room. I made my way to the hall tree, found my coat in the massive pile and stuffed the kit into my coat sleeve. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I went into the bathroom and cried. My child’s heart was sad and confused and hurt. Oh, grandma! How could you?! How could you think of the perfect gift, too? I allowed myself a few minutes of self-pity but I knew I had to pull myself together and get back out there into the madness that was Christmas at grandma’s back when we all lived within a 30 mile radius of Logansport. I took that gift home that night and it sat in the back of my closet, unopened with a smushed bow, for years.

In retrospect, I should have given it to grandpa anyway. He would have loved it and we all would have gotten a good laugh out of it. I know that now- as a mother who treasures every gift my children give me out of love and grace and innocence. When I see him again, I will tell him all about it. I will love seeing his smile and hearing his laugh at this tale – that smile, that laugh will be his gift to me.

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