Gifts from the past

My mother visited a friend’s garage sale, and she sent me some little gifts plucked from the past.

There were several brand new linen handkerchiefs, including original department store gift packaging from the 1950’s. Her other find for me was an envelope with four Esterbrook pen nibs from a shop in North Platte, Nebraska, where our friend grew up.

Last year, Mom gifted me with a collection of hand-embroidered towels her mother had made and used in their home. Mom prefers non-iron terry cloth towels that match her bathrooms, and she knows that I love antique linens. During this minor downsizing, I also received the bulk of her linen and cotton hankies. They had been gathering dust in the bottom drawer of her vanity since I was young.

My father carries a neatly ironed and folded white cotton handkerchief every day, and I see it as one mark of a gentleman. Mom switched to the arguably more hygienic and decidedly less labor intensive option of a pocket pack of Kleenex before I was self-aware enough to notice. Her hankies and small collection of silk scarves only saw use in my dress-up play.

Because I’m a ridiculous packrat who also thrills to the textures of the past, I carry a packet of Kleenex for the yucky stuff and also an Irish linen handkerchief, generally poorly ironed, if at all, but trimmed with handmade lace. The latter gets pressed into service when ladylike tears threaten on schedule (weddings and theatrical productions) or eyeglasses want polishing.

The hankies from Mom’s friend included birthday cards she and her brother wrote to their grandmother as children. Don’t worry, the cards had been opened and no doubt appreciated, but their grandmother probably used sensible cotton handkerchiefs every day and saved these colorful linen confections for “a special occasion.”

Well, I, myself, have already laundered them. I plan to use them any day on which they appeal to me.

I spent my childhood wondering why my mother didn’t use the elaborately embroidered works of art her own mother had saved from her own wedding. I won’t make what I see as the same mistake.

Every day is a special occasion in my house. We can wear our finest garments, use our best china, and dry our hands on embroidered linen as we wish. Life’s pleasures are greater when we attend to our work using things that were lovingly crafted by human hands! I try to take every opportunity to do so.

In this way, mundane acts can become prayers of gratitude. At least, they do for me.

As for the nibs, some of you may wonder what they even are. The nib is the part of a pen that actually touches the paper. These are replaceable parts from old-fashioned, refillable pens, which were the norm before the advent of cheap, disposable ball points.

I collect writing implements, including fountain pens. My mother saw these and thought they might relate, somehow, to my hobby.

Esterbrook Pens, makers of the nibs unearthed in our friends’ old desk, has a website. I may just write to them and see if they can tell me when these nibs were made and sold. A quick browse unearthed a few digitized charts of Esterbrook’s nib offerings from my best guess as to their era, but no immediate answers to my mystery have presented themselves.

Contrary to my mother’s high opinion of my general knowledge, I don’t really know much about fountain pens. I own about a dozen. A few were moderately expensive. Most just delighted me with their aesthetics.

I have learned, by writing with many, that I prefer a fine nib and a fairly lightweight and narrow bodied pen. I get annoyed when a pen is too short.

My ink has to flow smoothly, but, if it does, I’m more concerned about its color after drying than any other behavioral quirk.*

Odds are, I won’t find a practical use for the nibs, but it’s easy to appreciate the gift. My mother was thinking of me. She sent me something that resonates with my favorite part of myself—the writer who cherishes carefully made objects that endure.

I’ll endeavor to make my gratitude so persistent.

*Drying time and permanence might be other considerations.

Mother’s Day is the gift: one perspective to consider when shopping for Mom

Speaking for myself, and my kids have heard some of this before…

I don’t need a Hallmark card on Mother’s Day.

I don’t need a mug that says “Mother.” I don’t need any thing at all. You don’t even have to buy me flowers.Mother's Day flowers

On Mother’s Day, I’d like your time, your love, and your cheerful participation.

I’d like to sleep in

I’d like to sleep in, on Mother’s Day, until I wake up with a yawn and a smile and no alarm clock—digital or demanding human—in sight.

Then, when you’ve heard sounds of my stirring, I’d like my two favorite kids in the history of the universe to come joyfully in and jump in my bed with hugs and kisses like I got when you were toddlers and I was the center of your world.

No one’s too old to kiss his mom on Mother’s Day.

I’d like someone else to cook & clean

I’d like someone else to cook breakfast, but I don’t care if its fancy. I want the dirty dishes to disappear without my saying a word. In fact, I’d like to find the kitchen clean at the end of the day, even especially if I never set foot in the room.breakfast skillet

A running dishwasher without prompting is like a love song to me on Mother’s Day.

I’d like to spend time with you

On Mother’s Day, I propose we build a jigsaw puzzle with nary an eye roll and no suggestion that a video game would be more fun. I like playing Ages of Empires with you, or The Sims, but I enjoy building things more.

If you bought me a gift over my protestations, I hope its a 1000+ piece puzzle with an image you like, too. Or maybe a Lego City set—one of the modular town buildings that I love. We could spend a whole day assembling and playing with that.

If there’s a gift, I hope you bought it with the intention that we would enjoy it together.

Show me your best self

Order takeout or pizza for dinner, if you don’t want to cook again. I don’t mind; I just like to be fed.

Show me your consideration by remembering what I like, or use that excellent brain to observe that I’ve marked up all the menus with everyone’s usual order. That’s how I make sure your favorite dish is never forgotten.pizza

If you looked, you’d find my cookbooks full of similar notes, too. Who likes what? How must I challenge Betty Crocker so you like a recipe better? Have you ever noticed that this is just another little way that I take care of you every day?

Serve the food on plates, not from the boxes. Remember to put napkins on the table without being reminded that we’re civilized. Ask me if I’d like a glass of water instead of asking me to get one for you. Bring silverware for everyone, even your brother.

Use your very best, cruise ship manners.

Tell me, show me, acknowledge me

Tell me you love me. Show me you love me. Today is the day to acknowledge my boundless love for you.

That’s what I’d like for Mother’s Day.Mom hug

How will you celebrate Mom on Sunday, May 14?