95: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

95: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

No matter what his rank or position may be, the lover of books is the richest and the happiest of the children of men.

~John Alfred Langford

Christmas was always my mom’s favorite holiday. She never said so, but it was easy to see in the joy she derived from giving. She’d take days off from work to bake cookies and give most of them away. The thought she put into gifts was extraordinary, and she tried to surprise us with at least one completely unexpected item each year.

The greatest gift I ever received from her, however, was my love of reading. This is the gift I took with me to Iraq during my 2008-9 deployment. I managed to read a book each week. That meant I had to regularly mail books home to make room for new ones. Shipping typically took two weeks so I had to keep about a half dozen books in order to have something fresh. Even a small number of books can be burdensome when traveling to the other side of the world. Being stationed at three different Iraq bases over the course of that year made it even more so.

I still had more than three years left in my enlistment when I came home from Iraq so I knew I had one more deployment left. By Christmas 2009, e-readers were becoming less expensive. I asked my mom for one, a simple black and white device that would be seen as clunky and woefully outdated within a few years, but which served me well.

That e-reader bounced around the U.S. with me from the California desert to the hills of Kentucky and eventually to my little lakeside home in Michigan. It also traveled with me on my next trip to the other side of the world, this time to the snowy mountains of Afghanistan in January of 2011.

Because of that deployment’s timing, I had asked my mom to resist temptation and not give me anything for the previous Christmas. There was no reason for me to expect that it would be her last Christmas. As I made my way home to bury her that spring, I brought my e-reader, trying to distract myself through delays and layovers. I never thought about it being the last gift she ever gave me.

About a week before Christmas 2015, a female friend asked me for some reading recommendations. She had been offered some free e-books, but her old smartphone wouldn’t work as a reading device. Excitedly, I let her know I had a perfect gift for her, a paper book that seemed to perfectly suit her request. Unfortunately, there was a big problem with that. I had forgotten about giving away my extra copy a few days before, and the one I had had been personally signed for me. I felt guilty and scrambled to find another copy.

Then I remembered my old e-reader collecting dust in the corner. It already had access to the book I offered and several others that had been recommended to her. I hardly used it because I preferred paper books myself once I wasn’t moving around so much. But I had kept the device because it was my mom’s last gift to me. I paused only for a moment. My mom would’ve been proud of me for giving it away.

I sent that old e-reader to my friend on her birthday. She would take it with her as she traveled many miles to her family home for Christmas. Giving away my mom’s last gift became an incredible gift to me, helping me to feel her spirit once again during her favorite holiday.

Had the story ended there, I would still be filled with joy. It was a gift that kept giving, though. My old e-reader is once again collecting dust in a corner of my house. It’s a different house this time, one I bought with my friend the following summer. A picture of my mom hangs on the wall smiling at us, and I often smile back, thanking her for the generosity that has brought me so much joy.

~Drew Sheldon

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