Last year I declared at Thanksgiving that my nightwear was beyond repair, not a subtle hint for the upcoming gift-receiving holiday. My daughter and son-in-law responded to my plea with a pair of fluffy sky-blue pajamas. They are the perfect weight and softness. The color is soothing and the covered buttons are fashionable. Whether I’m putting on my pj’s to snuggle into bed or getting them out of the dryer, I always smile.
With lament, I had to throw away the pajama set my husband had purchased some thirty years earlier. The elastic no longer held together and the frays on the cuffs and hem were telltale signs that the fabric wouldn’t safely hold me inside. When he gave me the white robe and pajamas with tiny blue flowers, I wondered where he’d found them. The quality of the sewing and the cotton was luxurious, not what I’d usually see in a department store. He said, “I bought them at Rusell’s.” That explained it. Rusell’s was a high-end women’s clothing boutique. Not someplace I shopped for myself.
The details of my most surprising gift ever are somewhat vague in my memory. I was just turning twelve the year my family moved into a new house, away from my friends. It was a difficult year and I was sad, feeling as if I did not fit into the new crowd at school. I used to race home before my siblings so I could rattle off all my frustrations to my mother while she prepared dinner. She listened, but I don’t recall her saying much.
That year of fuzzy memory, the Christmas gifts were stacked under the tree as usual. I grew up the second of seven children. We were all born one or two years apart so my mother was busier than I can now imagine. She did her best at Christmas to have a pile of gifts for each of us. Usually the three boys got their year’s supply of undershirts and socks. We four girls got matching hankies and panties. Each of us probably also received a sweater or winter jacket or pair of boots that would be passed along the following year to a younger child.
I opened my ration of soft goods for the upcoming winter. Then after all the gifts were unwrapped, my mother announced, “There’s one more for Susan.” She presented me with a tennis racquet. Even though I was singled out to receive such a special gift, I don’t recall how I felt. I must have been confused because I didn’t know much about tennis except that my mother loved watching Wimbledon. But the following summer I played feverishly, hitting the ball as hard as I could with any partner I could find, for hours on end. Tennis helped me get through those next challenging teen-age years, earning me a Varsity letter. And even better, it’s a game I continue to play, now well into my sixties.
Unlike the pajamas, I don’t remember the make or quality or color of that tennis racquet. But I’ll never forget my mother giving me exactly what I needed.