Love is a Priceless Gift

Mom loved her rocking chair. It was where you would find her sitting most often (when she found time to sit). She would be there in the morning with her cup of coffee, reading the morning paper or chatting with someone on the phone. She sat in her rocker to read, knit, clip coupons, and listen to music or my sister playing the piano while she sang along. In the evening hours she may be found there enjoying a glass of wine and conversation. What I remember most though, is the pockets she had sewn that attached to the side of that rocking chair. These pockets held many very important belongings; among them a pair of scissors (specifically for cutting paper and not her good sewing scissors), but most important of all was a simple manila folder. This folder was top secret and off limits to anyone but her. It remained there at all times throughout the year.

We all knew what that folder held in the vague sense of the word. What we didn’t know was specifically what it contained. The clues could be found by picking up a magazine in our home. It didn’t matter which magazine (except National Geographic), where you would find, flipping through the pages, missing words, pictures, phrases, and even entire pages. Sometimes I would try to figure out what word or picture and which side of the page she had chosen to cut out and what it might possibly be a picture of, or what word was missing. It was fun guessing, wondering, and waiting, for that one day each year, when the contents of that simple folder would be revealed. That day was Valentine’s Day.

Ever since I was a little girl I can remember Valentine’s Day being very special. My mother took the entire year, for as long as I can remember, to collect words, pictures, letters and phrases which she would then form into cards for my dad, each of her five children and our spouses, and her grandchildren as our individual families grew. Near the end of January she would set up a work area where she began to put all the pieces together to complete the cards. She decorated the cards with other craft items and fun objects she had purchased or collected. They were bound or folded and a little different each year. We were not allowed in this area while she was working on them. She would make each one specific to who we were at the time, what our interests had been that year, and she would capture our essence and present them to us as a gift on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes they were funny; sometimes sweet and sincere, but they were always thoughtful, light-hearted and memorable. At one time she was making more than thirty cards a year for all her children, their spouses and her grandchildren. I’ve saved every one of those cards, and although some have gotten misplaced along the way, I cherish everyone which still remains.

I don’t think I ever fully realized what a huge undertaking this was until I tried to mimic this same tradition for my children. I did not go through near the extravagant work she did, but I still tried to make them special cards. I soon realized it really wasn’t my thing and that this tradition was best left as a gift to my children from their grandmother.

One year my mom decided she had done this long enough and was growing tired of the time and effort it took to continue to produce these wonderful gifts from her heart to ours. We all were so disappointed when she told us, so she asked if anyone would like to pick up where she left off and carry on the tradition as she had for the entire family. My sister Debbie was brave enough to volunteer. She made beautiful cards for all of us that year, and I still remember how touching the one was she made for Melissa. It had a big, bright, beautiful sunflower on the front and said something sweet, the exact words I can’t recall. Debbie found out firsthand what a huge undertaking this was and we all grew more appreciate and grateful for that gift my mom had given us each year.

Later that February my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and soon we would find out she was already at stage four. She died eight months later. We decided as a family her Valentine tradition would be buried with her, as that was a gift from her heart to ours, and no one could fulfill that very special role. Valentine’s Day will never be a Hallmark holiday for me. Instead I will always remember it as the day that took a year to make, year after year, with love from Mom’s heart to mine and back again. I do not recall this story with sadness in my heart, but rather with love and gratitude for the way my mother chose to express her love. She taught me that a gift should come from your heart and does not have to be anything of great monetary value. Mom and Dad painted a saying on the wall in our family kitchen which read, “Wealth Has Nothing To Do With Money”, and they lived by their words, expressing their love in ways that were priceless.

Remember to give love and kindness from your heart. Wear a smile on your face, in your eyes and in your heart. Offer a smile today to a friend, a lover or a stranger. Love does not come in chocolate or roses; it comes from deep within. As Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

With smiles and love from my heart to yours, Pam

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2 Responses

  1. Pam, you captured Mom’s dedication to family, and understanding of the priceless value of holiday traditions so well in this piece. A great number of those valentines are tucked away in my cedar chest, and to this day, any mention of Valentine’s Day among my children inevitably brings up memories of “Gramma’s valentines.” Every one of them is a treasure!
    I don’t know if you know this or not, but I have the boxes that those clipped words, phrases, and pictures eventually found their way into for safekeeping. I was thrilled when I found the two of them stashed at the very bottom of a box of Mom’s things that our oldest sister passed on to me after Mom died. One is a red and black box that checks came in, which Mom labeled “words/valentines” and the other is a lovely (though dog-eared) small square box, appropriately red and white, that Mom had written on: “pictures & words to be used for handmade cards.” Of all of Mom’s things that I am fortunate to have today, those two boxes are my dearest keepsakes. To me, nothing of Mom’s contains more love and cherished tradition than they do!
    Three years after Mom died, I became a grandmother myself, and as my granddaughter’s first Valentine’s Day approached, I realized I could do nothing more memorable for her than had been done for us. Down came those boxes from their safe shelf, and as I spread their contents out on the kitchen table, I could not stem the flood of tears for a very long time. It almost seemed sacrilege to use those words and phrases…but use them I did! With the addition of paper lace doilies, ribbon, and fabric scraps, I constructed a valentine I think Mom would have been proud of. And it took hours! For one!!!
    Now our blessing of grandchildren has grown to twelve, and each one of them has a collection of valentines handmade by their gramma. And I have used from, and added to, those boxes of words all these many years. Thanks Mom–Life is a circle of Love!
    (Your Loving Sister)

  2. I’m without words right now Sue. You are an amazing sister who I love more than words can express. I did NOT know about those boxes but I’m so happy they ended up in your hands for noone else could have done better than you in carrying on this loving tradition. Wish I was right there now to give you a hug! The circle remains unbroken. ♥

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