Welcome to My World: The family gifts I cherish

Carole Christman Koch

Reprint: First Use 2012 to Woman’s Life Insurance Magazine.

Throughout my life, I’ve received many gifts for birthdays, Mother’s Day, or Christmas from family. Although I appreciate these material gifts, I have to admit that the gifts that are most precious aren’t the kind you buy. They are the simple things in life.

My mother gave all ten children the gift of a sense of humor. She was the guardian of all the April Fools’ jokes. Even into adulthood, whether she was around her grown children or her friends, she inspired gales of laughter with her antics.

In school, we presented plays and skits for the Christmas program. One year I recited “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I’m sure it was difficult for my mother to persuade my father, with all the chores to do on a farm, to drive her to the school. Yet, she was in the audience for all the Christmas programs.

Pop was a different sort of person. He could be stern and didn’t always appreciate the humor between my mother and her children. He wasn’t much for conversation with his children either. But, he had a gentle side. When it rained, he and I would sit on the front porch very quietly. He gave me something far greater than conversation: he taught me the simple joy of listening to rain pelting a tin roof. To this day, I still love to listen to rain.

I don’t think I could possibly put into words the gift of having five older sisters in my family. Each of them has been a blessing in my life in their own unique way. They were the ones who gave me maternity and children’s hand-me-down clothes. They were the ones to give me free perms and they cut my children’s hair. They listened when I was hurt or unhappy. They showed me the determination it takes to recover from illness or bad situations. They are the ones that came to my door with food and caring for my children, while I recuperated from a nervous breakdown. They are the ones that cleaned my parents’ home and made the food for my wedding day (the 2nd). They are the ones who brought food for a small gathering after my daughter’s husband died. And, in the tradition of our mother, they are the ones who did anything and everything to make me laugh.

Then there’s the gift of having four older brothers in my family. When I was a youngster, my oldest brother took me on vacations. Later, when I had a large family and not much money, the two next brothers in age provided free labor to build an addition to my home. After my divorce from my first husband, my brother David and his wife went above and beyond to help me get a start in life as a single mother. They gave me a job and a piece of land to place a modular home. Even with six children of their own, took three of mine on a two week vacation.

When I was a teenager, I felt my mother didn’t know anything. I had to become an adult with four children before I realized my mother had a great deal of wisdom.

The sentiments my own adult children now express about me mean the world to me.

Tina once wrote, “Thanks for being there and always giving me the other side of the story to think about.” Both Tina’s husband’s father, and her own father, died when they were sixteen. Tina’s gift to us was to ask my new husband to walk her down the aisle at her marriage. Later, with children, an added bonus was to ask my husband if the children could call him Pop Pop.

Another daughter, Mande, wrote, “You have a beautiful soul. I am so glad you taught me forgiveness and most importantly faith. Thank you for being my Mom.” In addition, when Mande put herself through college, she wrote a thesis on Harry and me about family interactions. Mande interviewed both of us in order to do this work. In her thesis, we received many accolades as to how we handle our marriage. It was given to us on our 14th wedding anniversary, with this note, “Mom, thanks for being there for my family. You pulled me through.” And, “Harry, I still long for a father, and you may not realize it, but you have been a positive influence in our lives.”

My oldest girl, Kim, wrote something about me in English class when she was in 7th grade. I loved it, even if her grade was only a C. It goes, “I cannot imagine a more absent-minded person than my mother. One minute she says one thing, and the next minute it is all together different. She changes her mind so quickly, or forgets what she said, or was doing.” She ends with, “So I decided, whenever she tells me to do something, I’ll double check to make sure she wants me to do it.” I still chuckle over this. I know Kim thinks differently of me now. She just went through a premature death of her husband. During the long process of her husband in and out of the hospital, she’d relate something she told someone, “Mom will know!” My heart leapt every time she said that to me.

Kevin, my son, isn’t as demonstrative as his sisters, but little by little, his wife is teaching him. One time when his wife was ill, I slept over to help out. Kevin had a large note for me next morning on the living room table. It read, “THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR EVERYTHING. LOVE YOU. KEVIN.” Sometimes Kevin’s gifts are in the form of poetry he writes:

My mother is a special person in my life,

she is my mother and his wife.

The love between a mother and son is never broken,

although the son, at times, can be outspoken.

She makes you feel good through the bad,

which mainly occur when you are still a growing lad.

The way you feel about your mother never changes,

but it does go through many different stages.

She will always be there when needed,

no matter how many times she’s been mistreated.

My children have gifted me with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Until the grandchildren became teens, my husband and I had the pleasure of their company on summer outings. We trekked to places like the Statue of Liberty, a cabin by the lake, and more. Recently, all my grandchildren (5) and great-grandchildren (2), ranging in ages 22 to 1 year old, came to Mom Mom’s home for a bash. I was so happy they all came. I wonder if the note on the invite helped: “Old people know how to have fun too!”

Last but not least, when I remarried, I found my lifelong companion---my husband, who gives me an extraordinary number of gifts. When things go wrong, from the furnace to the car, he’s the one who deals with the service people. He puts gas in my car when empty and often cleans it for me. When there is a problem with an insurance or medical bill, he’s the one who calls the company to figure things out to our satisfaction. He shares the workload in the house, from helping me clean to shopping with me for the groceries. Every week he cooks a “mean” omelet. He reads over my many articles for publication. If we go on a vacation or short tips, he packs things needed, makes up the itinerary (with my input) and then packs the car to boot. He always shares money from his band jobs with me. He guffaws at my material. And, daily, he gives me the most precious gift a wife could ask for: he says: “I love you.”

From my parents, to my sisters and brothers, to my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, to my husband, I cherish each and everyone one of the priceless gifts of love I receive.

Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.