Gift of Words
More precious and more durable
by Cathy Allison
his Christmas I will tuck a small present away in the closet for my daughter instead of putting it under the tree. I won't wrap in it in brightly colored paper or tie it with bows. It will be folded and placed in a plain white envelope, only one of a collection that keeps growing larger each year because these gifts will not be opened for decades. One Christmas when my daughter is a young woman I will give her the envelopes and she will read about her birth, about each year that passed as she grew up and all of the things she may have forgotten about herself.
In each letter I try to capture the special moments in her life and distill them into words. I want her to know that she cried at sad songs even before she could speak; that at one, when she turned and growled at the boy who tried to push her off the jungle gym, my heart soared because I knew then she has a fierce spirit that will see her safely through life. I write because when she encounters obstacles as a woman she needs to know that the very first time she fell hard off a wall she was balancing on, she wept for five minutes and then climbed back up without any prompting, saying "Try again."
Writing it down before it's gone
The world is such an uncertain place. I may not be there to tell her about herself, to remind her that she is clever and brave and oh so wonderful. And as hard as it is to believe as each moment happens, there are some stories I will forget. Already my memory wavers when I try to recall the name of the first nursery rhyme she ever sang for me.
As I watch my child climbing boulders and fences I find myself wondering if I was as fearless at the same age. I have asked my own mother questions about the child I used to be but it is hard for her to remember. I understand - thirty years is a long time. That is why I write these letters.
I give words to all of the people in my life that I love. From the time I fell in love with him at sixteen, I have given my husband poems as presents. He writes me songs. To celebrate her first Christmas with her granddaughter, I gave my mother a memory box. Using fine stationary cut into pieces, I wrote special memories I have of her on the slips of paper, curled them with scissors and put them in a stained glass box. She keeps the box in a special place in her living room and picks a memory to read whenever she is missing me.
Words as comfort...and continuance
It was my dearest friend, Ada, who gave me the idea of writing down my daughter's life. She records her family's history and puts the pages away to give to family members on holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.
She also knows the hardest way of all what a gift written words can be. A parcel came for her recently in the mail from her nephew. It had a card attached that read, "Auntie, I think you should have this."
Twenty years ago she had given her older brother a travel journal to record his adventures during a trip abroad. He died last year and his son found it months later among his belongings, wrapped it up and sent it to her.
It caught at her heart, Ada told me, reading his journal. She could hear the lilt of his voice again in the anecdotes and observations about himself he had written on the pages. As she read along it occurred to her what a gentle presence he had been in her life, that even in death he is still bringing her words to comfort her. That journal has become one of the most cherished presents she has ever received.
In my mind's eye I can see myself much older, sitting by the tree with my grown daughter and watching her face as she opens each letter and scans the written lines. I can hear myself saying, "You have been the greatest treasure of my life and I could not bear to forget any of those moments with you. I wrote each one down so that you would know yourself more completely and understand even a little of the indescribable joy you have given me."
Cathy Allison is a freelance writer and fulltime mother who lives in Vancouver, BC.