With December now past, gifts are tucked into their forever homes — a drawer, a closet or a toy box. A few, perhaps, may even be re-gifted. These special packages first appeared beneath the tree in tissue-filled gift bags or smartly wrapped in lengths of ribbon, all thoughtfully given.
But some of the best presents haven't always been tied with a bow.
A very special gift was given to me years ago. Back then, my mother couldn’t have imagined how very significant this treasure would be to me after she was gone.
When she first introduced this "gift," I was only 5 years old. Hand in hand, my mother and I had slipped through the backyard gate to visit the new lady next door. Over time, our excursions of a few steps became a foray into heaven for a very young child.
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Upon every social call, a bowl of vanilla ice cream found its way to my eager fingertips; a grateful smile upon my innocent face. While she and my mom shared conversation over their frosty dessert, I licked my bowl clean.
Then one elementary school day, carefree play paused when my mommy got real sick. It was this very special neighbor who took in my brother and me while our world held its breath. And because children weren't allowed during hospital visiting hours, neighborliness included hoisting me high so I could peek into the window of my mama's sterile room.
My mother got well — and seasons passed.
Then one day, something changed. The house next door stood empty. My 10-year-old mind fretted that my brother and I had thrown our ball over the fence one too many times.
But on my wedding day, there was my mother's friend, Jeanne, pouring the reception punch while I floated on my young groom's arm. Her anniversary cards followed us each year, a little money always slipped inside.
It wasn't until my own kids were pitching baseballs, volleyballs and an occasional doll into another neighbor's yard that the distance of years between Jeanne and me diminished. The neighbor lady from my past wasn't just my mother's friend; she was mine, too.
And what a gift that friendship has been! Even though almost three decades have separated us, Jeanne and I have been ageless girlfriends. On telephone chats it has been two women sharing, laughing — and even crying some times — our hearts meeting in a timeless bond.
Her faith, words of wisdom and shared memories have never failed to uplift me, whether miles apart or face-to-face. Once only the nice "neighbor lady," her 95-year life has been a gift — one I haven't wanted to give up.
But on Dec. 19 in the early morning hours, Jeanne left for her heavenly home. And what I see beyond my tears is the priceless gift that was mine for a time, now reunited with my mom in the presence of God.
Just imagine, two longtime friends sharing conversation for eternity. And if it's truly heaven, there must be a bowl of vanilla ice cream.