What gift can a daughter give her mother on her 90th birthday? Something extravagant, like a cruise or a day at the spa? Something more mundane, such as jewelry or a sweater? Frankly, my mom has everything she needs for her comfort.
After much soul-searching, I felt that my gift should come from the heart. A necklace of sorts -- words strung together with love. The gift that begins with two words: thank you.
Thank you for my life, for the wonderful memories, for the times you stood by me through sorrow and for the times you shared my joy. It wasn't until I became a mother that I gave much thought to your life as a young mother. Only then did I realize how difficult times were, and how hard you worked to take care of your family.
I doubt that young women in the generations that came after you could ever contemplate shoveling coal that had been dumped in front of their house into large buckets, dragging it on a wagon and then heaving the buckets into the bins inside the back entrance of the house.
Nor could they imagine having to carry heavy baskets of wet laundry up two flights of stairs to the attic, where clothes were hung in the winter, drying in stiff cardboard shapes.
And I wonder if young women today could have been innovative enough to figure out how to cook potatoes 20 different ways, or hide their revulsion -- as you must have -- when preparing rabbits and pheasants that dad hunted to feed us.
This was the Great Depression era, yet despite the lack of money, you somehow managed special treats for my sister and me. A trip downtown to shop at AM&A's and Woolworth, lunch in the tea room, a movie on Friday nights and walks on warm summer evenings to visit relatives.
Thank you for the enticing aromas that met me when I opened the back door on my return from school, and the mouth-watering baked goods I sampled. No one baked a lemon meringue pie like you. I still can't master a pie crust.
Thank you, mom, for teaching me to read and write, which accounted for my boredom in first grade. And thank you for my first library card and my love of books. Thank you for the dresses you sewed for me, and especially for the intricate costumes for the heritage school plays.
Thank you for putting up with my fidgeting during Mass and for the faith you instilled in me, a faith that has helped both of us through life's journey.
Thank you for not giving up on me during my "know it all" teen years. Thank you for all the baby sitting and for the help with mothering when I called for advice.
There is also a special thank you that you deserve. It's for the love you clearly demonstrated while caring for your aging parents. This loved spilled over to dad and to your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
It is not said as often as it should be. You need to know, mom, that this love is returned to you time and time again. So, as you celebrate your 90th birthday with your family and friends, you will know this love surrounds you like a cloud.
Long ago you wrote prize-winning essays. This is a gift you passed on to me, and now I am giving this gift back to you with more love than I can say.
HELENE R. LEE lives in Lockport. Her mother will celebrate her 90th birthday, which falls on March 20, on March 11.
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