“The best gifts are the unexpected ones.”
I’m not sure who originally coined the phrase “the best gifts are the unexpected ones,” but a truer saying has never been spoken. For whatever reason, I don’t have a lot of experience with truly meaningful gifts. My adult children aren’t really gift-givers. My parents kind of approached gift-giving from a monetary standpoint, and it's been years since I really exchanged gifts with my sister or close friends. Gift giving is hard, and I think over the years my family and I have been slowly moving away from the whole idea of gift exchange. That said, my husband usually does a fine job. More times than not, his gifts are very meaningful and show how much he truly knows about me and what I like and dislike. However, even with his expert gift-giving skills, none of his gifts compare to the unexpected gift I recently discovered.
Yes, discovered. I’ll get to that in a moment.
After years of floating the idea of leaving the Grand Canyon State, my husband and I just made the decision to do so. In three months' time, we had put in our notices at work, found new jobs, and put our beautiful home on the market. We were in a whirlwind of motion, and commotion.
In truth, we probably allowed emotions to cloud our judgment on this a bit. We had daydreamed for years about moving back to our home state and giving our daughters (one nine and the other two) an opportunity to grow up in the rural south. We dreamed about planting lush gardens and riding horses and fishing out of old creeks. To be honest, most of the people we knew thought this was just a pipe dream, and perhaps it mostly was. Two things changed that: the passing of several family members and the Arizona housing market became INSANE.
The first part directly contributed to the emotional aspect of our decision to move. Just one month shy of the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, I received the news of my father’s death. It was only one day after my youngest daughter’s birthday, and it was on the day I was scheduled to have gallbladder surgery. I was in shock.
Within five short days of being given this news, my husband and I traveled across the country with our girls and buried my father. That trip was the first time we seriously talked about moving. With the news ripe with tales of ballooning home values, the idea of moving was sounding better and better. Still, my husband wasn’t quite convinced.
I think what finally convinced him was our realization that bad things really do happen in threes. Now, I know there is no scientific evidence to support this old proverb, but sometimes coincidence is just cruel. Three months from the date of my father’s passing, my husband received his own call. His father was in intensive care. I still remember his mother’s words, If you want a chance to say goodbye, you need to be here within the next few days.
In a very Trains, Planes, and Automobile experience we made our second trip to Georgia to bury a third loved one in just over a year. It was truly unbelievable. And with my father-in-law’s funeral, we made our decision. If tragedy struck again, we would not be two thousand miles away. It was time to capitalize on the booming Phoenix housing market. We called our realtor on the way to catch our flight back to Phoenix.
By the end of the school year, we were packing up our house and headed home.
“Honey, what do we have left to load?”
“The upstairs is clear. We just have the boxes staged in the office and what’s in the garage.”
“Ugh! I don’t even want to look in the garage. Let’s just toss everything and cut our losses.”
“Woman, you can’t just be throwing my money away like that anymore. We gonna be South Georgia rednecks. I won’t be bringing home these big Intel paychecks anymore.”
I rolled my eyes at my husband. “Could you be any more dramatic?”
“Why, yes’m I can. Let me just show you how much.”
“Stop! Stop!” I laughed, pushing away from my husband as he pulled me near. “You are sweaty and gross and we still have all this work to do.”
“Ewww! My eyes are melting!,” our nine-year-old, Arya, joined in as she entered the kitchen.
“Oh, yeah? Is your nose still working?”
“I was wondering if you could tell me what hard work smells like.”
As I watched my husband chase Arya around the kitchen, I couldn’t help but smile. In all the chaos of funerals and moving, I hadn’t really smiled much. I hadn’t really felt much. And here my husband was forcing our daughter’s nose into his armpit. It was disgusting. It was hilarious. I smiled.
“Okay, guys. Daylight is wasting and we want to get on the road tonight. Arya, go make sure your sister stays occupied and out of the way. Dad, we’ve got a garage to clean out.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” he said with an exaggerated salute. And together we began our final rounds of packing and pitching. We were on the road before the sun had completely set. Right on schedule.
Ironically, we actually ended up throwing away most of what was left in the garage anyway. I think we ended up with a bucket of tools, a box of old books, and a box that had come from my granny’s about two years earlier.
The salvaged box from my granny didn’t look like much, and my husband almost tossed it in our final walk-through. The packing box advertised doggy training pads and was duct taped tightly around all the edges. Looking back, I’m not sure what my husband thought was in there because we don’t have a dog.
I’m just thankful that I caught him. The contents of the box were comprised of several Carnival glass pieces that had been passed down to me after my dad and his siblings sold their family home. I had been gifted them by my granny when it was clear that she would not be leaving the nursing home. They were housed in my mom’s attic for a while, and then one summer I brought them back to Arizona. Having nowhere to store the heirlooms, I left them in their box and forgot about them.
In truth, I didn’t really think about them much even after we loaded them into our UHaul pods. I was proud we saved them, but that was about all the bandwidth I had for them at the time. In fact, I didn’t think about them again until several months later when we finally closed on our new home. That ordeal and retrieving our UHaul pods is a story for another time though. The point of this story is to share my experience with receiving both a meaningful and unexpected gift. The box from my granny.
So, six months after deciding to move from Arizona, and three months after packing up our belongings and arriving in Georgia, I discovered the most meaningful gift I have ever been given.
It came by UHaul.
In a box advertising dog pads.
I had owned it for over three years.
“Well, honey, this is it. The last UHaul box is finally here. I feel like we are exactly where we started three months ago only we are on different sides of the ocean.”
“Well, you ain’t wrong, except this time we are moving into our forever home.”
“It better be.”
“Hey, farm life here we come! Now let’s get this hutch into my new dining room.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to keep using it for my baseball memorabilia?”
“Uh, huh. I am reclaiming this furniture.”
“As you wish. Your happiness is my everything.”
“I would never. Now show me what you are going to put in this hutch.”
“Oh, my gosh! That’s right. I’ve never even shown you. You know that box from my granny? She gave me the most beautiful carnival glass goblets. Let me show you.”
I ran to retrieve my box, practically giddy about finally being able to display these prized possessions. I returned to the room where my husband waited and carefully opened the box that had preserved my treasure for the last several years and two cross-country moves.
“Check these out.”
I opened the box to find the goblets had not been packed with paper or anything similar, but with an old quilt. It was a little odd, but that was my granny for you. Gingerly, I pulled back the folds of fabric so as not to disturb my treasure. But as the fabric unfolded, I realized that I recognized the quilt the Carnival glass had been packed in.
“What’s wrong babe?”
“Nothing,” I responded with a dismissive smile.
“Let’s see these goblets you’ve gone on about.”
One by one, I lifted the goblets from the quilt that had protected them. I barely noticed them. My interest was now with the quilt. Could this be my quilt?
After the final goblet had been removed from the box, I pulled the packing blanket out completely and examined the simple rag quilt design. The fabric was made of pastel plaid strips, and it had been bound by tacking with matching yarn.
I had not been mistaken.
This was the quilt.
For years I had looked for this quilt. The very first quilt that I had ever helped make. The quilt I made with my grandmother.
On impulse, I pulled the fabric to my nose and inhaled.
It smelled of her, just like I knew it would.
Marlboro Lights and White Diamonds.
These scents conjured a wave of memories and unprocessed emotions.
I had not expected the quilt.
I had not expected the release.
My husband pulled me close, and I cried into his chest. We stayed like that for several moments. He, in a state of confusion, and I, in some other state.
As I started to regain my composure, he finally broke our silence. “What’s wrong, honey? Was something broken?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little as I shook my head.
“I’m just glad to be home.”
The gift had been more than I expected. My grandmother’s smell on an item we had spent hours on together was the subtle reminder I needed that we never really lose the ones we love. They are always with us. In pictures. In memories. And even in old quilts.