The presents have been opened and the house defrocked of all things “Christmassy,” but I’m still savoring a gift I received from my daughter-in-law and, in my mind, I’ve re-opened it a hundred times.
Though it would be a good topic for next December’s column to do a “my-favorite-gift” story, or to include it in November’s column, relating to Veterans Day, I want to “unwrap” the gift once again and share it with you, my readers, today.
The story begins 14 years ago, my then 82-year-old mother was convalescing during a long bout with Parkinson’s Disease and a broken hip. It was difficult for her to communicate and I pondered about possible ways I could improve her day.
That’s when I remembered the batch of letters from my father — a World War II veteran — that she had received during the 1940s. (When my mother had sold her home, the letters — carefully bound with a ribbon — were among the possessions she had given me.)
In order to brighten her day, I gave my mom the letters for her to read, planning to ultimately retrieve them for safe keeping. I believe I did, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t find them when I looked a few years later.
During numerous episodes of emptying storage boxes, checking nooks and crannies, and asking my children if, perhaps, “Gram” had given them a letter or two, I never found them — a fact I mentioned in a previous column.
I had lamented reading only one letter from the top of the stack — could I have ever been THAT busy? — and I kept thinking about all of the things I should have asked my parents and never did.
Every time I saw a Memorial Day celebration or read something about World War II, I felt guilty. Why hadn’t I read more of the letters? How could I have possibly lost them after having regained them for the sole purpose of preservation?
Fast-forward to this past Christmas Eve, which is traditionally spent at our son and daughter-in-law’s home where our family enjoys the holiday dinner, followed by the “grand opening” of presents.
When we arrived, Paul and I, our two children, their spouses, and our two grandsons gathered around the kitchen island, feeling jovial wearing silly Christmas eye glasses and chattering about all the things families talk about.
In the midst of our conversations, my daughter-in-law placed a pretty box in front of me and I couldn’t fathom why I would be receiving a present before the start of our gift exchange.
Things got quiet and I was perplexed as I opened the small box to discover a tiny brown envelope labeled V-Mail Service from the War & Navy Departments, with a postmark of 1944. My heart began to pound when I found inside a letter from my father, handwritten when he was stationed in Hawaii.
“I spent hours in our storage unit looking for those letters and managed to find only this one,” said my daughter-in-law, who admitted, with a chuckle, to sweating during a hot day while searching through all the things they had stored as a result of their move a few years ago.
Everyone was surprised and, of course, I was overwhelmed. Not even my son had known about her gift.
As I struggled to read the tiny, 5-by-4-inch letter, I realized that my daughter-in-law had typed it, word for word on the computer and printed it so it could be more easily read. (V-mail stands for Victory Mail, a mail process used during World War II that censored and copied the letters to film, then paper, as a secure way to correspond with solders overseas.)
Dated Feb. 4, 1944, the letter exudes a husband and father’s love and mentions his concern about my mom “working and minding the baby when you should be resting.” (Like “Rosie the Riveter,” she had joined countless other women who worked in a factory — taking the place of men who were in the military. My grandmother stepped in as babysitter.)
Though I have no idea where the other letters may be, I am thrilled to at least have this one.
Having re-opened my gift for the 101st time, I will not put it away. Framed and hanging on my wall, it will remind me of a present that will never be forgotten and of a daughter-in-law who — in the true spirit of giving — took so much time to search for letters I had taken little time to read.