Christmas is coming and along with the joy most of us experience the stress of not having finished our buying. This year most of us are also suffering through the pangs of not having enough money to buy the gifts that would we would normally give.
Across the country people are reexamining the choices they would have made and finding a wealth of possibilities that change their relationships with each other in unexpected ways. Instead of giving from the wallet they are giving from their hearts.
This trend made me smile, recalling to mind the gifts that have stayed with me over the years, many of them from my children. Small objects made by hand with the finger prints will visible; the plates from preschool with their artwork; the small things remind us of days past. The best gifts keeps giving. My daughter, Dawn, gave me a packet of coupons one year. Those memories still make me smile today. I should have Xeroxed them, looking back. I was tempted to keep them but Dawn insisted they be used, after all, she had worked hard thinking up the contents of each coupon. So I used them, every single one. My favorite was the coupon that promised her room would be cleaned, that once, without argument and to my entire satisfaction. Wow.
Dawn, now very much grown and married and firmly committed to saving the world through going green, went through some interesting times when she was entering her teens. The state of her room was an ongoing issue for the entire family. Our house cleaner eventually told me she was afraid to enter and I had to agree that she had reason.
Dawn’s room was accessible only up a narrow staircase, over the garage. It had its own bathroom, with tub and separate shower. It was roomy and had a lovely view of the back yard where various interesting events took place over the years we lived there. The aging Walnut Trees nodded through long, sun warmed summers. When we moved in the room, very private and inaccessible, had a new and crisply clean light blue carpet on the floor. The walls were a creamy white. The bathroom sparkled. As time went on these things changed. At first I tried reminding her. Then I began sending her off on short trips and cleaning it myself. Dawn objected to my invasion of her “private space.” My pleas did not avail. Nothing kept it fit for human habitation.
A pot pie disappeared there to be found six months later compressed into a flat, green patty in Dawn’s bed. Dawn had searched all over the house, complaining someone had stolen it. The cats viewed her room as a place to relieve themselves since they determined, correctly, no one would notice. I acquired bright yellow hazardous waste tape which I put up, a not so gentle hint. Dawn ignored it. She liked her room just as it was with a foot of waste on the floor and a bathroom that would make any reasonable being blanch. The smell could be intense.
As you can imagine, it was a point of conflict between us and also a cause for humor and horror from her siblings who generally had far more tidy habits.
That was why the gift she gave me that Christmas still makes me smile. The coupon was hand made with an edging of holly and berries. It came with others, one for breakfast in bed, another for any chore I chose. But that one was the best.
I do not recall how many garbage bags it took to clean her room when I finally used the coupon. She took care of it all herself on that occasion. But the pile was monumental. Looking back over these many years, and knowing that now she is an impeccable housekeeper for herself and her husband and their family of cats, still makes me smile. Dawn knew what would make me happy. She proved she was entirely competent to deliver. She was a woman of her word.
This kind of gift showed she knew what would make me happy. Receiving that small sheaf of coupons had surprised me, telling me I was visible as a person and not just as a mother. I do not recall any other present I received that year. But I remember the coupons and that gift links to another gift she did not know she was giving me. I used to have a lot of keys which lived on a copper ring heavy enough to be used as a minor weapon. Dawn once said that the sound of those keys jingling let her know she was safe, Mom was on her way.
Gifts can come consciously, as something we intend to give. They can also come straight from the heart to warm us long afterwards without our even knowing.
At this time in our nation’s history we are all reaching out for what lasts, sustains us, warms the heart and makes life worthwhile. We will forget most of the things we get this Christmas. But some gifts we will remember forever. The best gifts last a lifetime and never wear out, break, or lose their power to move us. When we use our knowledge of others to show them we really know them, see them, understand what we can do to bring them happiness, we are giving greenly, now and to last.
Today Dawn lives in El Cerrito and has a lovely website dedicated to her passion for growing locally called Garden2table. Growing her own food locally has become another form for giving green, connecting her to those around her. As we move from this year to 2009 growing and giving will become ever more central to our lives. As individuals, as members of families and communities, we need to see each other, care, and ensure no one is forgotten. The moments that nourish us spiritually build love, and that is always a good thing,
Ms. Pillsbury-Foster is the author of the book, A Star for Christmas, which explores an enduring family tradition founded on her memories of James Dean.