The Best Gift of All

Her name was Marlena and she was introduced to me on the first of the school year (3rd grade, I think). She and her family lived in a rental house right next to the elementary school. She must have moved away after that year because I can’t remember her in any of the other grades.

I hadn’t thought of Marlena until this past weekend when I went “home” for my stepfather’s funeral. I saw that the house she lived in is still there only now it’s an insurance office. The school building is long gone, however; replaced by the county courthouse.

Anyway, I invited Marlena to my birthday party that December and she came. Like all the other invitees, she brought a gift. Hers went on the gift table like all the others. After cake, ice cream, and a couple of rounds of musical chairs and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, it was time (finally) to open the presents. Not surprisingly each gift was wrapped in festive birthday paper and included a “to/from” tag and a stick-on bow. All except Marlena’s gift. It was wrapped crudely as if she had done it herself. There was no bow or “to/from” tag on it. As I opened each present from the huge pile, it was obvious that the gifts had been chosen and purchased by the child’s mother. (It was obvious because the children looked as surprised as I when they saw what was inside.) Finally, I got to Marlena’s gift. When I picked it up she said timidly, “That’s from me”. I had known it was from her but only by the process of elimination. It was clear that the wrapping contained a book, too. Flat, thin. When I peeled back the paper, I saw that it was indeed a book – a children’s book that was a little below my reading level. I thanked her obligingly, threw the book in a box of now unopened gifts, and went back to the cake table for seconds.

When I got home and emptied all the gifts out onto the den floor, I examined each one again. A couple of box games. Some Go-Fish cards. A pink comb and brush set. A pair of nylon panties. (Who would do that to a little girl in public?) I finally came to the book from Marlena. I opened it and immediately noticed that the pages were a little worn and some were dog-eared. And the first page had a pre-printed box that said, “This book belongs to” with a place for a child to put her name. There in crayon was Marlena’s name written in a child’s scrawl. I was sure. This was a used book – my first experience with re-gifting. Even as a 3rd grader I was a little incensed. I got a hand-me-down book with somebody else’s name on it? I tossed it aside and went back to playing with my “Go To The Head of the Class” game.

Eventually my mother strolled in to take another look at my stash and saw the book lying over by itself – away from the other “new” toys. She opened it and promptly deduced what had taken me a couple of minutes to figure out. This was a used book. Instead of being incensed as I was, she studied it for a while and casually remarked, “This is the best gift of all, you know”. I had no idea what she meant. I looked at her, puzzled, I’m sure.

“Shug,” Mama explained in her low-pitched Southern drawl. “This was something that Marlena loved and enjoyed and she wanted to share it with you.” Maybe that was true or maybe not, but Mama saw it that way and placed the book on her nightstand. I knew why. Since she always read to me before I went to bed, I figured she was planning to read this one that very night. I don’t remember regarding it as a used book anymore after that but as the sharing of something someone cherished. I don’t remember the title or the subject of that book either, but I kept it for a long time. Between Marlena and Mama I got a good lesson in giving – and receiving.

P.S. There’s nothing wrong with re-gifting, I guess, as long as we’re passing along our treasures and not our trash.

P.S.S. Shout out to Opp, AL. Although I don’t know whom, analytics show that several of you are reading my blog every week. Thanks. Hope you keep reading.

2 thoughts on “The Best Gift of All

  1. Jerry Rankin

    I am learning that the older we get the more cherished in value some of our memories become. Keep sharing your thoughts. They speak to our hearts.

  2. Kay Chandler

    Great story, great lesson, Nan. I have a story that has to do with my mother and yours. I hope to share it with you one day. Your mother was my mother’s Sunday School teacher, and she was dearly loved.


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