In these days of gift registries and wish lists, giving a gift can become a somewhat soul-less activity. All that is required is for one to go to the appropriate store and choose an item from the list of stuff that the recipient has selected. It’s not my idea of giving a meaningful gift. This is the random thought that popped into my head this morning as I was remembering that today is the eighth anniversary of the death of my grandmother-in-law (whom we all called Mom). As the random gift giving thought collided with my reflections of Mom, it occurred to me that she was one of those people who knew how to give truly meaningful gifts. I am sure those who knew her could tell endless tales of the gifts she bestowed. The following are a few of my own recollections.
When my husband and I moved into our first home in Jamaica, a small bungalow on Wellington Drive, Mom offered me a puppy from a litter that one of her dogs had just given birth to. I had not owned a dog since leaving home, and I eagerly accepted a rambunctious black puppy who became known as Homer Dog. The puppy quickly grew into a dog of formidable size and bark. Our bungalow was on a property that was effectively “ungated” and apparently very inviting to passers-by in pursuit of things that did not belong to them. Homer Dog was quite effective in deterring these uninvited guests, and I was very glad for his presence especially on the nights when I was alone at home. I don’t know how Mom figured out that this would be a good present, but it was.
Several years later, her first great grand-daughter ,Rajini, was old enough to start kindergarten. Mom knew, from the regular Sunday dinners at her house, that Rajini had a special weakness for tongue which was a regular offering at these dinners. So the Sunday before the first day of school , she presented Rajini with a foil wrapped tongue specially prepared for her to make sandwiches for the lunch box. Later there would be small personal sized buns at Easter, and mini Christmas puddings for the great-grand children. My daughters still remember those special treats.
In 2005, when we were preparing to move into our new home in Long Mountain, we had a conversation about the proper preparation of a new house to receive the people to live in it. I learned about the tradition of killing a white fowl and sprinkling the blood to the four corners of the house. I think the practice is intended to prevent serious injury and accidental or premature loss of life in the house. She offered to arrange for the acquiring of the fowl, its proper slaughter, and subsequent conversion to curry chicken to be consumed at the house. We accepted this unusual house-warming gift with gratitude, and twelve years later, and several trips up a long ladder to the roof by my husband, we have had no serious injuries or premature deaths.
In 2007, I had to relocate my medical practice, as the original building which housed the practice was sold. My new office quarters had been out of use for many years, and in need of extensive cleaning and repairs. Mom showed a keen interest in my progress in setting up the new office. There was an unbelievable amount of work to be done. In retrospect I realise she perhaps would have remembered the challenges she faced setting up her own restaurant business many years ago. Anyway, as I kept her abreast of my progress, she offered to pay for one of her own helpers to come and help with the clean-up process for two days. It was an incredibly thoughtful, and generous gift of time and labour which I accepted, and it contributed significantly to my being able to move into the new office quarters on schedule.The best gifts are the ones that are offered in love, with a true understanding of what the receiver really needs, that the giver is able to provide. Mom’s gifts were not always the kind that you could wrap in gift paper, but they were always thoughtful, and just right for the occasion.
For me though, the most valuable gift I received from this lady that I came to love over the 14 years that I knew her, was the example she set of how to live a life in faith. I learned from watching Mom that if you do what you can to help who you can, that there will always be somebody to help you when you are in need, even if it is not the person you originally helped. I have seen this manifested countless times in my own life since Mom died. We all have our crosses to bear but part of the reason we were put in this world is to help lighten each other’s burdens where we can. As I honour her memory today, I think we could all do well to keep this in mind. For Mom’s family and loved ones, perhaps one of the best ways to honour her memory and the gifts she bestowed on us all, is to put the time and effort into giving the gift of thoughtful help to those around us in need. If you pay attention, you don’t really need a wish list or a gift registry.