The Greatest Gift

pat2.jpgMy mother received one of the best Christmas presents ever, and I wanted to share it with you.She’s 98, soon to be 99 (yes, I have very good genes) and she currently lives in an excellent nursing home (at least as good as one can be). She can still read.   Although she has some short term memory loss her mind is still good.  It’s the body that’s failing. The knees are gone (both), and she cannot stand on her own, not even for a second. Her hearing is really bad. She has difficult turning over in bed because of lack of strength in her legs and in her right arm.She hates being so helpless but reading gives her an escape. We joined the Doubleday Big Print Club and Readers Digest Big Print program, so she usually has plenty of reading material.

So what to give her for Christmas?

My family came up with the electronic photo frame. I researched portable frames and bought one. Others installed family photos –some dating back to 1916 — which was no small task. Mom marveled at the way the photos continued to flip, but it didn’t compare to the last gift.

My niece bought a DVD player. Fine, I thought, as Mom unwrapped it. She can’t really keep up with movies – the speech is usually too fast for her earing aids to follow – but I thought she should be able to enjoy musicals. But then my nephew produced a DVD, a “conversation” with Mom and Dad he filmed ten years ago in my parent’s living room. He and his wife asked questions, then let Mom and Dad reminisce. The topics ranged from Dad’s childhood years in Arizona to Mother’s in Minnesota and North Dakota. They talked about meeting each other, their marriage, trips they’d taken and their families, past and present. The conversation lasted about three hours.

Dad died about five years ago. He was 93 (I said I had great genes), and Mom misses him greatly. Their’s was a great love story and seventy-year marriage. She has missed him greatly. They were seldom apart during their marriage.

Mom had never seen the DVD. Neither had I. We played it, and she sat in her wheelchair with the first real smile I had seen in years. It was as if she was back there, sitting in her comfortable chair and Dad in his, chatting. She loved every second of it, and wanted to see it again. I imagine she will watch it a lot in the coming weeks and months.

It was a gift to me as well. He returned for a few hours. He and his comforting presence, his smile, his wit and his stories of his childhood and romance with my mom.

Something so simple. Something that cost nothing but a few hours of time. But it was priceless to her. It brought Dad back into her life and rekindled wonderful memories. My great nieces and nephews were equally as enraptured as they watched Dad talk about his experiences in Arizona in 1913, particularly when, at two, he played with a rattlesnake.

I wanted to mention it here because some of you might have aging parents you might like to “interview” on video. Or maybe you and your family would like to record yourself and pass on bits and pieces about family history and funny stores and adventures that might otherwise be forgotten.

Most of us here are history addicts, but in our busy lives we don’t often think that a century from now, our descendants will be as hungry to know about us as we are about our ancestors. What better gift can we give our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren than a piece of us and a glimpse of our particular time in history.

We prize our technology and can’t – at least I can’t –even imagine what a hundred years will bring. I remember the old black and white Philco television set that gave me Roy Rogers, and I wonder what miracles await our succeeding generations. It’s nice to think that they will also have a personal piece of the past.


To greet 2009, I’m passing on some terrific quotes for the new year. They all have great meaning to me, and I hope they do to you. Add some of your own.

“If You obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” – Katherine Hepburn

“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

“A true friend stands by your side in the storm and reminds you that there are sweet and sunny days to come.” – Kathryn T. Shaw

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that take your breath away.” – Author Unknown

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” ” – Native American Saying.

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” – Zen Saying

“Ah, how good it feels: the hand of an old friend.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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26 thoughts on “The Greatest Gift”

  1. Oh, Patricia! What wonderful gifts your mom- and the whole family- received this year! I got one of those photo frames from my in-laws. I’ve yet to put anything on it yet but I hadn’t thought about all the photos of my grandparents and great grandparents that I could scan to the computer and put on there as well as pictures of my immediate family and in-laws that make up our family.

    I wish I had video of my grandparents talking about their life together. I only have my memories and I really really need to write them down to pass on to my daughter.

    The idea of video taping is a wonderful idea and I might just have to do that with different couples in our family.

    Some quotes-
    A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
    – Jean de La Fontaine

    Patience strengthens the spirit,
    Sweetens the temper,
    Subdues pride,
    And bridles the tongue.(author unknown)

    It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little. Do what you can.
    – Sydney Smith

    Destiny is not a matter of chance,
    It is a matter of choice;
    It is not a thing to be waited for,
    It is a thing to be achieved.
    – William Jennings Bryan

    What lies behind us
    and what lies before us
    are small matters
    compared to what lies within us.
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The surest path to happiness on this earth comes from losing yourself in a cause greater than yourself.

  2. Your story brought a tear, Pat. Beautiful. My dad outlived my mom by 3 years, and he was just lost. My sister made him a DVD of the old family photos and slides they’d taken over the years. He loved that. They’re both gone now–I like to think they’re still having good times together.
    And thanks for the great quotes, to both you and Taryn. I will ad my favorite, from Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis:
    Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and LOOK for trouble.

  3. Pat, I absolutely loved this story! What a memorable Christmas, and what a loving nephew you have. He is to be commended for taking the time ten years ago to spend time with his grandparents. He’s inspired many of us to do the same thing. Wow!

    My quote is taken from a country music song. I was getting my nails done at the time, and I didn’t catch who was singing it, but one of the lyrics said:

    “Struggle makes us stronger.”

    I was on deadline (as I am now) and struggling to make the story work. Those few words really hit home with me, and I wrote them out and tacked them up next to my computer. I’ve taken strength from them many times.

  4. That is a beautiful gift for your Mom. I like the quotes. I love your books Patricia
    Happy 2009

  5. Pat, your story brought tears to my eyes this morning. How lovely and thoughtful of your family. You have wonderful family members. I’m so glad your mom is able to enjoy that video.

    You gave us a wonderful reminder to cherish the moments.

    I lost a beloved aunt recently. One son and husband had gone before her. Her three remaining sons chose this for the service brochure:

    Makers of Memories

    Listen mothers — and fathers too:
    Say, has it ever occured to you
    that in your homes from day to day,
    you are making memories to give away?

    You are making memories, good or bad
    for the little girl and the little lad.
    And the memories they carry
    when later they roam
    will be the measure of your home.

    A lovely memory you make today
    may bless them on their future way.
    A game, a book you read, a springtime walk;
    A smile a reverent prayer, a friendly talk.

    And boys and girls, do you know that you
    are daily making memories too?
    When you are grown and gone away,
    there in the home your memories stay.

    Mother, father, with time to spare
    will recall the days when you were there.
    And blessed are the mother and father who
    in memory find you good and true.

    Mothers, fathers, daughters and sons,
    Oh make those memories happy ones;
    For in your homes from day to day
    some kind of memories you’re giving away.

    Fannie Richards Davis
    Abilene, Kansas

    I thought that said a lot about their parents, that their sons chose this poem. And I wondered if they found it among their mother’s things.

  6. Pat, I’m just so touched by this. I so wish we’d done something like this before my dad passed away.
    I would love having a film like this.

    I also just love that Robert Frost poem. I think, as writers, we’ve definitely taken the Road Less Travelles so it’s been a favorite of mine for a long time.

    I’m a teacher and we teach this Maya Angelou poem. Here’s one stanza from
    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

    The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
    of things unknown but longed for still
    and his tune is heard on the distant hill
    for the caged bird sings of freedom. -Maya Angelou

    A really powerful poem and, of course, my students have NO patience with poetry, which I completely remember. I sometimes think education should be held back until people grow up.
    Older people would be clamoring to study classic literature and poetry…well, maybe. I have non-traditional students seeking a GED and they’re older, but mostly not exactly intellectually ‘grown up.’

    Anyway, I read that poem to them and it just melts my heart and they’re looking at me like, “Can I go now?????”

    The Maya Angelou poem title is inspired by this poem by Paul Dunbar, which is also wonderful.

    I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
    When he beats his bars and would be free;
    It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
    But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
    I know why the caged bird sings. -Paul Lawrence Dunbar

    And as for a quote…I have this one on my blog.

    “If you don’t need God to pull off what you are planning, you are not dreaming big enough.” -Michael Hyatt

  7. Here’s more of Robert Frost’s
    The Road Not Taken

    TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  8. Oh, and my personal favorite quote…from ME. In my books Clueless Cowboy.

    The heroine says to the aggravating hero…

    “If I want to make an impression on you, I’ll use a hammer on your skull.”

  9. Pat, what a lovely thoughtful thing for your niece to do for your mom. It brought tears to my eyes. Those memories are priceless to families. Hopefully you’ll find more to share with your mom.

  10. What a lovely present, Pat–and what a blessing to your family! Glad you were all able to enjoy it and the time with your mom!

  11. What a beautiful gift, Pat! I can just imagine how much it means to your mom and you. I loved everyone’s quotes, too. You also reminded me to record my own family history. Thanks!

  12. I just want to say what a wonderful and touching blog – I love all the quotes too! I had all my favorite quotes stored on a computer that crashed (sigh).

  13. Oh, Pat. what a lovely post and gift. Our niece made a DVD with music about just the last year (my husband suffered and recovered from a life-threatening illness) and it was so moving and beautiful and we all both laughed and cried. Of course our two-year old grandson was the star!

    The quotes are beautiful. And The Road Not TAken is one of my favorite poems.

    May 2009 be the best year ever for the fillies and their friends.

  14. Thanks so much for the great idea! I was thinking
    of writing a history, but a filmed narrative would be more fulfilling for those who follow us.

    Pat Cochran

  15. Pat,
    Very lovely sentiments. I loved hearing how much joy your mother has rec’d from such a thoughtful gift.

    This year, we sent my father-in-law who is 87 and couldn’t make our daughter’s wedding, a framed photo of all of us together along with pictures of everyone thruout the wedding. But we also sent him the DVD of the entire wedding. He was so touched and said it was his best Christmas gift and he was about to watch it for the second time around.

    I love the idea of doing an interview. We’re not old, but all of my older relatives are gone, so I guess we’d have to interview ourselves. :)I sure wish we had this technology before my dad died. He had some great stories to tell.

  16. Okay all of you, now I can hardly write for the tears in my eyes and the all choked up feeling in my throat. How I envy those of you who can still do that with your parents. I wonder if my kids would like something like that of their parents. I have an audio tape of my grandfather singing old Danish songs and I love it!

  17. Connie. . . I’m sure your children will treasure it, just as my brother and I do, and all the third and fourth generations do.

  18. Pat, as I read your post, I envisioned the movie Titanic where the old woman is sitting there…remembering…and then we see her story…

    When I was a teen, my British aunt came to visit and brought over a cassette of her and her kids talking. By that time, our cousins had been in England for over a dozen years and they all talked so funny!

    Well, they did!

    Anyway I remembered the smiles it brought so ten years ago, I went to visit my Finnish grandmother and spent an afternoon recording her…I just set the camcorder on the bureau and let it rip. We had tea and cookies and she talked while she braided her old fabric and weaved in some plastic breads bags like she always had.

    She’s gone now, and my youngest is now 10 and if it wasn’t for that tape, he wouldn’t remember her and her Finn accent or her hee hee hee laugh at all.

  19. What a wonderful gift!! We celebrated my Dad’s 80th with a surprise full family reunion (about 27) and then my stepmom had a “friend” party (over 100) where they had a slide show of pics that was just great. We are hoping to celebrate his 85th in March this year with another family reunion.
    My mom died when I was 21 (more than 30+ years ago without being too specific!)and I sure wish I had more than just a few photos and favorite books to remember her with.

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