THE GIFT

  1. Prior to her arrival to any space she occupies, my mother's presence is announced by a cloud of Chloe perfume.
    I know other people who wear the scent, but it's just not the same; not as fresh, light or as uniquely beautiful as when she does. It permeates everything that she owns, defining in some way who she is.
  2. Even in financially dire moments, Chloe was, and continues to be the one luxury of her life.
    A spritz applied to the wrist, the final act of getting dressed, walking out of the house, a reminder at the end of a long day of something lovely, and good. Becoming a representation of what it means to be a woman, to be beautiful, to be her.
  3. In the dark ages of my youth, Chloe was only sold in a large eight ounce crystal bottle or a smaller, though still heavy four ounce size, residing perilously at the bottom of her purse wrapped in a baggie, the sole protection from a leak or break.
  4. When I was 15, I bought my mother, a portable, purse ready atomizer that could replace the heavy bottles she had been toting around.
  5. Manufactured by the British company Stratton, slightly larger than a tube of lipstick, the spray mechanism made of brass, the case enameled in burgundy, jewel-like in the velvet package, special enough to be considered collectible.
    It was the first grown up present I ever bought and gave, costing more than a weeks pay, even with the employee discount applied to its price.
  6. While I thought this the perfect gift, I was apprehensive to give it to her because my mother was an infamous, unapologetic, inveterate re-gifter.
    As a teacher, my mother was awarded many tokens over the years by grateful students, that she very efficiently, rather summarily returned or regifted, often in the original wrapping paper,if she didn't like it.
  7. Having witnessed the practice of receiving, assessing, judging and dismissing gifts without regret or remorse, my nervousness felt well founded and justified. It made birthdays torturous, and created the impression that she was impossible to buy for.
    She was never one to effectively feign enthusiasm for the trinkets brought home from school, and wasn't the mom to wear the macaroni necklace.
  8. When she opened my present, I saw in her expression authentic surprise and delight. The joy of receiving the perfect gift. She loved it enthusiastically, promptly taking out the clever funnel that came in the box to pour her perfume into the atomizer. It was totally gratifying to give her something that she so clearly enjoyed and appreciated.
  9. I was shocked when I watched her pull out an old glass bottle - wrapped in its baggie from her purse as she was searching for something else.
    'What happened to the atomizer' I asked, my rage and blood coming to an immediate boil imagining that she succumbed to old habits, dismissing how important it was for me that she keep it.
  10. She looked me in the eye, ready to confess her sin, and somberly said 'Don't be mad at me - I gave it to Leah'
    Despite the admonition to feel otherwise, I was incensed, crushed, furious that she had re gifted something that I had saved for, worked so hard to earn to Leah, not even a friend, but a colleague!!!
  11. Leah was not a woman who shared my mother’s passion for art, music or books, nor did she call her just to chat. Leah was a very kind woman who was not a friend probably because she was devoutly religious and my mother was resolutely secular.
  12. My mother then patiently, calmly explained to my livid adolescent self that she had been visiting Leah at Sloan-Kettering. ‘It’s been going badly’ she said ‘And when I walked in the room Leah said Oh you always smell so good, so I took the atomizer out of the purse and gave it to her - It meant so much to her - we can get another one’.
  13. In that instant my venom subsided and I understood that giving the atomizer away wasn't about me. What she didn’t say was that Leah was dying, and that giving her this beautiful thing was the least that could be done.
    Being in there in the room to assure Leah that she wasn't forgotten or alone was a sacred duty. Sharing a thing was about true generosity, and compassion. In that single act, my mother taught me what it means to be human.
  14. Though, never told, I know that she continued to visit Leah often, almost daily until she died.
    Having met her only a few times, I don't know how or why I remember, but Leah was easy to recognize as a pure soul, her goodness tangible, radiant in her countenance. She believed sincerely that god would make her well.
  15. My mother watched the illness distort and transform Leah's appearance as her health declined but was surprised and upset by her death because she hoped that such profound and unwavering faith would be rewarded with a miracle.
  16. We spoke about Leah as I was writing this story and my mother immediately remembered her, identifying her as a friend of a friend, citing her kindness, recalling with sadness that she had faced such a hard death.
  17. She remembered receiving the atomizer but not giving it away. We never got around to replacing it.
  18. Incidentally, my mother’s name is Odeda it means to encourage, to cheer up.
  19. This story was originally written as part of the process of my son's Bar Mitzvah preparation in the Fall of 2008, and was read at her memorial service in the Spring of 2009
    Her friends chuckled when hearing her tendency to regift described, knowing that it didn't stem from a sense of malice or greed but from not wanting to manage the detritus of things she didn't need, want or enjoy. She thought of herself as recycling. She was also renowned for being the first one there to hold your hand when you were sad, on the phone or IRL, to offer comfort and solace, to really listen. To cheer you on. I miss her still.