Gifts this time of year can make me feel sentimental, such as the cherished ornaments on the tree and the memories they bring of years gone by.
But some of the best presents don’t come in a box tied with a bow.
Years ago, a very special gift was given to me, although my mother didn’t realize back then how important this treasure would be to me after she was gone.
At the time she first introduced this “gift,” I was only four or five years old. Hand in hand, my mother and I would slip through the gate to visit the nice lady next door. She always had vanilla ice cream for me and conversation for my mom. I can still remember our neighbor -- I was never allowed to call her by her first name -- ironing while the two chatted and I licked the bowl.
When my mommy got real sick, it was this very special neighbor and her husband who took in my brother and me while our world held her own at the hospital, my father at her bedside. Back then, little children weren’t allowed during visiting hours. So, the kindly neighbor pair found a way to hoist me up so I could peek through the window of my mama’s sterile room.
My mother got well and seasons passed.
Then, one day something changed. Our neighbor lady and her husband moved to another town. Their house stood empty. I reasoned in my 10 year-old mind that my brother and I had thrown the ball over the fence and trampled their plants during the search, one too many times.
But on my wedding day at the church, our former neighbor lady poured the punch and her husband gathered gifts while I floated through the reception, a young groom on my arm. Each year after that, their card would come on our anniversary with a little money slipped inside.
It wasn’t until my own kids were pitching balls and dolls into another neighbor’s yard that I realized 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 separate us, Jeanne and I are ageless girlfriends. When I call to chat, her husband, Reuben, sighs. He knows it will be a while.
It’s two women sharing, laughing and even crying sometimes, our hearts meeting in a timeless bond. Faith, memories and words of wisdom lift me, especially on days when I miss my late mother -- particularly Dec. 13, her birthday.
You can bet on that special day, I’ll be feeling very sentimental about the cherished gift Mother gave me.
If only I could tell her that Jeanne’s friendship has been priceless.