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Angela Banaszak: Blessed with gifts that money can’t buy

My mother and grandmother are diamonds that were polished by the trials of life. While they couldn’t give me much materially, they left me with three gifts that I could never buy. They taught me to be independent, hardworking and unselfish, which have meant more to me in life than a trip to Disney World, a piano or a horse – things I yearned for as a child.

My mother and grandmother struggled through life on their own, never asking for help from anyone, never being unkind and never taking advantage of anyone. This taught me to be independent.

My mother worked all day on the railroad, counting rail cars on the tracks, and then came home and worked all evening, building her own craft business. We would do craft shows in all kinds of weather, driving for hours to set up at shows in malls. We slept in a van. I would go into stores and lock the bathroom door so that I could take a sink bath. My mother built that business from the ground up, working day and night.

When I turned 16 and wanted a car, I worked all summer in a library. The first two weeks, I was given the chore of standing at a counter and putting plastic covers on paperbacks for my entire six-hour shift. The gentleman in charge was shocked that I never quit or complained because all of the other teens who had worked there had done so in the past.

I was upgraded to working the checkout desk as a reward for being such a good worker. I earned $600 that summer and soon bought my own car. It wasn’t perfect, but it was mine.

My mother and grandmother both had so much to cope with in life, but it didn’t stop them from working and helping others. My grandmother worked until the day she died, helping out with the Senior Companion Program. My mother, who started her own very successful craft business, is 71 and still working. She says that hard work never killed anyone; it just makes you stronger.

The most precious gift they taught me was to be unselfish and put others first. My grandmother never bought anything for herself and wore the same clothes for years. I remember when she got a $50 bonus in her Social Security check. You would have thought she had a million dollars.

She took my sister and me shopping. I bought a kit to make pot holders. I remember making them for my mother, who also volunteered for many years for the Salvation Army. That gift brought me so much happiness.

I was honored to receive the Green Angel Award for being a volunteer Girl Scout leader for 12 years. I have learned to listen and help all of the children I care for. I once helped a girl who was being bullied, and it meant so much to her that she baked me a birthday cake and brought it to school for me on the bus. No trip to Disney could replace the meaning of that cake because I knew I had made a difference in the life of a child.

The most wonderful gift I received from the gifts that my mother and grandmother passed down to me was my husband. He is the most wonderful man and has always been there for me, no matter what the circumstances. My self-esteem had never been very high, so I could not figure out what he saw in me. One day I simply asked him. He replied that it was all three of the gifts my grandmother and mother gave me.

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