In the hallway of our home hangs a note from my Grandma Ann. Reserved and preserved to celebrate an occasion in my life, it was carefully tucked away along with a handmade gift.
My special little piece of Grandma.
Just her to just me, and it reads just like this:
Saved for Emily Anne with love from Grandma Smith…
(I hope you will enjoy setting a nice table and cooking attractively as much as all of your grandmothers before you that passed on those same goals to me.)
It was the last gift I opened at my wedding shower. Under the note lay two handmade aprons. Pink and coral patterns matching perfectly the outfit that I struggled to put together earlier that morning. Even though Grandma passed when I was a small child, she was very present that day.
But this gift…it’s more than a gift.
It’s my reminder that I come from of a long line of extraordinary women.
Let me share a bit about Grandma.
She was a woman known for the work of her hands. Among many things, she was a seamstress and a caterer. Her gifts were encouraged from her mother, a woman who had traveled for months with her children by nightfall to escape desperate times with the hope of bringing them to a better life. That journey guiding Grandma to her path in becoming a resilient and self-made woman.
And now Mom.
Her hands, in between teaching, mothering, and walking steps in her own journey, wove many of Grandma’s gifts into our daily lives. She hosted wonderfully warm parties and taught us to bake Grandma’s famous pink peppermint cookies. A dedicated fixer of most anything, she tailored our clothes and tackled many a tangled-up necklace. In doing so, Mom kept Grandma in her heart, and she also shared her with us.
My guess is that Mom didn’t have time to carry on the gifts, but that she needed them. Late into the night, I’d momentarily wake to the sound of her sewing machine or the sweet smell of brownies baking. The beginnings of my own Mom, pieces comfortingly drifting me back to my dreams.
Today Mom’s hands are busy giving the babies of the world a voice using baby sign language and caring for the new children in our family. Much to our surprise, the gifts keep giving. Mom is back at her sewing machine fashioning baptismal gowns and calling up Grandma for the difficult parts.
Growing up, I made my own attempts at some of these elements of their womanhood. I so admired them and believed I had to do all those things Mom and Grandma did perfectly, or at least regularly enough for them to become a part of me, too. Neither cooking or sewing stuck, but that didn’t matter. Mom just kept offering gentle guidance, always working alongside me.
She connected me to other things or other people that might help me find my own gifts, and eventually, I did.
Encouraged by Grandma’s note, I found another one: setting and decorating a beautiful table when friends and family gather. I complete the process at a leisurely pace.
- Wait until the house gets quiet and then bring it all out.
- Place the big things first to lay the foundation, and then sprinkle in the little things.
- Always include multiple glasses and pieces of flatware (leaving little room for food, my husband’s department).
At every table, I set my love, and step by step, I enjoy this gift.
I named our daughter, Anya Elaine, after these two women I held so close in my heart. Through my own Motherhood, I’ve come to notice the moments when I acutely feel their presence. Anya asks for help, and suddenly I hold the peace I need to do the things that sometimes I can’t. I feel the touch of their handiwork and their labor of love courses through my veins. The rush turns to calm, my fingers relax, and my hands steady to untangle the knot in her necklace. I know and I trust that I am capable.
I understand now that it wasn’t about a gift itself. The real gift this long line of extraordinary women gave me was the guidance to find my own gifts. For me, it’s reassurance that we never really lose each other. We learn what we need to know in the time we have together, even if we haven’t yet recognized it in ourselves. With time and life, it becomes evident that we build on these inspired gifts, and in doing so, we build ourselves.