The Best Kind of Gift

When I was young, I was told a number of lies about giving gifts. The first and most egregious of these was “It’s the thought that counts.”

Meant to convey appreciation of effort, this lie is rarely told in earnest. Instead it’s thinly veiled disappointment of someone’s complete misunderstanding of your needs.

Enter lie number two, “It’s okay, I don’t need anything/whatever you get me is fine.” For the same reasons as the above, familiarity with the object of your affections is key to avoiding this situation, and the subject of today’s post.

I’m not big on ritualized gift exchanges. Holidays to me rarely carry any kind of divinity, and my preference is for those with deeper meanings of pride and remembrance. Once such calendar exception is Mother’s Day, a very American holiday which is celebrated around the world on various days in spring and should not be confused with Mothering Sunday, on which people eat cake.

Barely a century old, the second Sunday in May was trademarked by seminarian Anna Jarvis, and later institutionalized by President Woodrow Wilson. It quickly became a favorite of the greeting card and last-minute florist industries, and Jarvis was so incensed by this practice that within a decade of Wilson’s pronouncement she devoted her life to what she saw as an abuse of a celebration she promoted for years to honor her own mother, and at the age of 94 was arrested for disturbing the peace during a protest of greeting cards.

She died penniless and alone. It was not a Hallmark Moment, and odds are high you’ve never heard about it until just now.

So I relate the above story to illustrate my own feelings on the day. It’s not about flowers, or expensive gifts. For once, it really IS the thought that counts, and instead of buying a _______ for the most important person in your life, you should show them how much you care by making something with your own hands.

I’m a writer. It’s what I do. These hands don’t paint, draw, carve or decorate. They expound.

My mother is the strongest person I’ve ever known. Born in the opening round of the Baby Boom, she’s the second child of five. She raised me, raised my son, and made us into men that know both the power of a smoldering gaze and the cold chill of a tight-lipped smile.

One time, a sales guy tried to cheat us on some automotive repairs. My mother just stared at him, saying nothing. He kept talking, growing visibly more nervous until he reversed himself and apologized. She stared at him some more so he was sure to remember what he’d done.

My mother got in a car wreck rescuing everything I owned from an impound yard in northern Nevada after my truck broke down in the high desert. She thought this news to be of lesser importance than the fact that my stuff was now at the home of a friend.

My mother left a fantastic job with a major New York publishing house to move to a safer school district than the one we lived in. A district 1000 miles and 5 states away. We were on food stamps for 7 months, until she decided she’d had enough of that and got a job with the Department of Health and Welfare.

My mother was a Union President.

My mother quit smoking, and was serious enough about it she keeps the remains of the last pack she ever smoked in a jar in her living room. It’s been there for over 20 years.

My mother introduced me to science fiction. She’s highly competitive, and wouldn’t play board games with me because one of us would have to lose. So encouraged me to learn the rules myself and figure out the best strategies. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize these as the defining characteristics of my career.

My mother likes playing video games so much that I had to buy a second NES, SNES and SEGA CD system so that we could share the cartridges. I still have comic books from her collection mixed in with my own.

My mother reads. Every day. Entire rooms of her house are devoted to bookshelves. She once called me and outlined a long plot for a novel she thought I should write. I told her she might consider writing it herself, and she said, “Oh, no, I’d rather you had something good to work on.”

One time, our cat bit my mother on the hand. My mother picked up the cat and bit it back. Hard. That was the end of that particular feline behavior.

My mother would make Chuck Norris sorry he’d ever considered punching a dinosaur. Because it’s just not fair to pick on someone who can’t hit back.

You know what you did. Now go to your room and just think about what you've done, young man!
You know what you did. Now go to your room and just think about what you’ve done, young man!

I love you, Mom. And I made you this gift. I hope you like it.

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