7: Love Engraved

7: Love Engraved

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Love Engraved

A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.

~Seneca, Moral Essays: Volume III

When my brother Paul and I were in middle school, we ordered a “personally engraved Mother’s Day plaque” for our mom a few months before the big day. Being teenagers, we forgot all about it until one Saturday morning when we found ourselves face to face with a tough-looking teenager at our front door holding a small plastic-wrapped object stamped “C.O.D.”

“You ordered a plaque cash on delivery,” he said.

We were broke, so I did the only thing I could—stopped Mom in her slippers and asked if we could borrow twenty dollars.

“What for?” she asked suspiciously.

“We can’t tell you.”

Sensing our desperation, she turned and went into the bedroom while the three of us—Paul, I, and the plaque dude—waited awkwardly.

We heard her muffled conversation with my dad.

“What do they need it for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who’s at the door?”


Our parents came out cautiously. Mom handed me a tightly folded twenty-dollar bill. I gave it to Plaque Man, who released the shrink-wrapped tribute like a little hostage and left without another word.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” I said to Mom, handing over the mystery object.

Mom opened the plastic wrapping and stared at the plaque, which was much tinier in real life than it had appeared in the catalog. She fingered the thin plate on which her own name was cheaply etched.

My father blurted out, “THIS cost TWENTY dollars?”

Over the next few years, I saw that plaque displayed prominently in the living room, then on a bedroom shelf leaning on some books, and later, beneath the books.

My mother’s name rubbed off in a matter of weeks, and the plate developed sickly green spots, like moldy bread. The plaque ultimately migrated to the garage, and finally vanished.

Looking back, the plaque was pathetic as tributes go, but then the same might be said of Mother’s Day itself. How can an entire year’s worth of appreciation be captured in one day, one card, or one gift?

My mother can’t cook well, rarely offers advice, and is uncomfortable with excessive human sentiment. Her maternal instinct is limited to a small range, with worry on one end and denial on the other. But she showed me one thing: what it means to be unconditionally supported, no matter what I do.

The memory of that awful, cheap plaque struck me suddenly last week as I accepted a handmade Father’s Day card from my daughter. I thanked her as if it were the most valuable gift she could give me—and indeed it was.

Impulsively, I called my mom. I told her that, in my mind, no one can hold a candle to her—and not just because it would light her liberally applied perfume on fire.

She had no recollection of the plaque incident and when I reminded her, she responded in a way that brought the moment instantly back to me: “I can’t believe I gave you twenty dollars!”

She never asked for that twenty back, maybe recognizing that the memory—and the intention attached to it—is now worth much more. That’s a true motherhood instinct if there ever was one.

~Joel Schwartzberg

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