The Art of Lovely Giving

“The thoughtful little things you do each day have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”  

Alexandra Stoddard

Giving has nothing to do with how big our bank account is or how easily we can charge large amounts for the following month’s sorrow. It’s a fine art that takes practice to develop.

I suppose my fine-tuning of gift giving comes from a sense of penance I once felt in reflection of my high school days and my gifts and non-gifts to my mother.

Consumed in my own world, I typically forgot Mother’s Day, her birthday on Halloween or Christmas until the last minute. One late Friday afternoon in May while I was calling the neighborhood florist for her Mother’s Day bouquet, I heard her holler down the stairs, “Please don’t order yellow roses and then charge them to me!” Loud exasperated muttering followed.

I exaggerate. Mother never said “please” when she hollered.

In hopes of making up for my lapses, while at the U of A, I aimed to find her something special for Christmas. She loved antiques. I hit a jackpot, or so I thought, when my Comp I teacher announced he sold antiques. 

My posse and I showed up at his doorstep the following Saturday morning. Much to our entertainment, this giant of a man, wearing his standard vintage outfit, and his tiny wife with bobbed hair in a flappers outfit, opened the door with Charleston music blaring behind them. They paused to greet us and then arms swinging, feet flying, they flapped their way down the hall.

Still a bit stunned, my friends and I made our way to their basement showroom. My first thought was “Wow! what junk.” Faking a smile, I politely browsed, committed to finding something for under twenty dollars.

Looking back, it was an awful statue: this three-foot tall beige plaster of Paris Grecian goddess with flowing veils twirled in one place. Mother didn’t fake a smile. Her look of horror spoke her truth. 

And as anyone who hopes to be rid of something does, she placed the treasured statue on the curve of the next to lowest stair in our living room’s entrance. I soon figured out it was not so much for its public display. This area was the very place my large Siamese Rama and my little brother’s scrappy Heinz-57 Teddy held a stand-off several times a day.

From the front door to the stairs, Rama slunk between furniture before taking flight in that one space where Teddy could lunge before Rama hit the mid-stair where Teddy couldn’t go.

Mother shed not a tear the day Teddy attacked, once more missing Rama, and he flipped the almost naked goddess to her demise. 

For the years following until Mother’s death, I made up for it with actual antiques and many fond experiences. Even after she confessed during the standing ovation of Les Miserables how miserables she was throughout the musical, she changed her tune the next day. 

“My friends are all raving over the production,” she said. “So in hindsight, I guess I loved it. Thank you for taking me.” 

After a night at the symphony, we dined at the same restaurant with the conductor and his soloist wife sitting two tables over. Mother loved sharing how she had dinner with the conductor and the star soloist. Who said she didn’t have a good imagination!

And where are the photos from the surprise party I gave her? That is a story in itself.

I still laugh thinking about taking her to Disney World with us. While coaxing her to reduce some of the clothes she had packed, we discovered she had included seven swimsuits for our one week away. Funny thing is, Mom didn’t know how to swim. 

When Bill and I started dating

I learned his birthday was one week before Christmas. From childhood tales, he shared how often birthday and Christmas gifts were lumped together. 

That’s just not right, I thought. Birthdays are special.

He wasn’t sharing it as a “woe is me, I was never the same because of it.” It was just a simple fact of life. I questioned how I could make his birthday special, especially since we lived an hour away and only saw each other on weekends. 

That year I gave Bill 18 little gifts to open–one a day–from December 1-18. None were expensive gifts. One was a tree ornament with a photo of us taken in front of a Christmas tree the weekend before. Another was his favorite treat–sour jelly beans. Sometimes he opened them while we were talking long distance. On weekends I got to see his delight in the small inexpensive tokens of my rich endearment.

The following May, Bill duplicated my gift giving pattern. It was really sweet, even as I opened each one for thirteen days, thinking, “What would make him think I would want this?” 

What he did was walk into a gift store named Something Special and picked out what he figured could be 13 something specials. Good thing I didn’t love him for his creativity. I simply appreciated his thoughtfulness.

Yet, over the years after we were married Bill worked at becoming a better giver, realizing I wasn’t into things so much as motives of the heart. And that’s where Bill has blown past me and won in the gift-giving department.

I have to share with you my favorite birthday.

May 1, 1999–I’m standing in the kitchen when I hear Bill come through the side door. At first I thought it was a typical Saturday, and he was returning from his morning rounds … except he’s carrying a 3X3X3 foot box with squawking and honking pealing through the house. 

Our two teenaged sons, awakened by the clatter, joined us. Peering into the box, we discovered a gosling–long necked and yellow feathered, clamoring about her little space, because I guess that’s what goslings do when stuck in boxes.

I loved her immediately and christened her with the name Lucy Goosey. The rest of the day was spent feeding and watering her, sitting in awe of my first gift of a goose.

May 2–Same box, different sound—quaking times two. Inside were two Muscovy ducklings to join our old Muscovy duck, Weird Al (see Connections blog for more on Weird). I named them Little Al and Alicia. They joined Lucy in her box. By this time, Bill is building a wire-box for them that can sit on the grass (and they can fertilize it) and the cage would protect them from the coyotes, raccoons and foxes while babies. 

Once they were older and wiser, we’d release them into the lake behind our house.

May 3–I got 3 Nike t-shirts. Get the pattern?

May 4–The cardboard box held four ducklings. All named and loved. (More about Lucy, the Als and other waterfowl friends in How Cartoons Taught Me about the Wild World beyond my Fenced-in Backyard.)

Lucy and the Ducks

A family of water fowl

May 5—I received five York peppermint patties (big ones)—my favorite candy at the time.

With each day I was surprised and delighted. What Bill had developed was learning me and what I liked and loved. And I loved the thought of his researching where to buy the water fowl, hiding them in the carriage house, building bigger cages for them and then helping me with them over the following years. It became our adventure.

I could go on about developing the art of giving …

We all have something to offer, thoughtful unselfish gestures that encourage others throughout their lives. Many do it each day, at home and work, when no one else is watching. Frankly, I think that’s the best way to give.

With all the social media campaigns where people post their good works, what about the ones no one sees but the receiver and God? Isn’t He the one who really counts, and doesn’t He know when our motives are skewed?

Thank you to all of you pay-it-forward givers.

I once read about a woman whose husband was fighting in Afghanistan. She had a bumper sticker on her car sharing how proud she was of her spouse. While her car was parked at a shopping mall, someone left $40 under her windshield wiper with a note saying, “Thank you to your husband and you for protecting our country. Please take him out to eat when he returns.” Makes me tear-up just typing. What a kind gesture! And the person who left it chose to be anonymous.

You gotta love the good anonymouses (or is it anonymice) of this world whose hearts’ motives are in giving for the blessing of giving, not for any recognition for themselves.

There are so many opportunities to connect with our loved ones and those who are serving us throughout our days and to strangers you might not ever meet.

All of us hope to not be invisible. Find a way to see others and how you can be that blessing.

They say there are untold numbers of stars throughout our universe, but we can’t see them because their lights are focused inward.

Feeling a bit dark today?

When no one is looking, do something kind.

“If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,

then your light will shine in the darkness,

and even your bleakest moments will be bright as clear day.”  

Isaiah 58:10 (The Voice)

Thank you for your love and prayers. For you I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

When I turned 40, my daughter Ari–still a teenager–surprised me by giving me a birthday party. She planned long and hard, and she charged nothing to my credit card (like I had in my teenage years.) Her thoughtfulness is still a gift to me.

6 thoughts on “The Art of Lovely Giving

  1. Ann, you & Bill are such inspirations. Loved the words “Mom never said Please when she hollered.”
    I’m sure that would be true of me, Cindy, as a Mom.
    The gifts that you & Bill have shared are so powerful & what teaching moments.

    Like

    • That was a sweet family memory, Jean, when naming Rama. My grandfather was visiting. He and my dad surprised me with this sweet kitten, knowing I was saddened by my cat Angel having died. I was 8 or 9. My parents, grandfather and two brothers all gathered in the living room–a rare occasion. I got out the encyclopedia and looked up Thailand–formerly Siam. Rama was a common name for the kings in Siam during a certain dynasty. How did your sweet mother get her name?

      Like

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