I stood in front of the card rack looking at Mother’s Day cards and feeling like an orphan. No need to choose a card or gift for my mom this year. I swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat and blinked back tears. I don’t cry in public. Not usually.
It had become challenging these last few years to think of gifts to send Mom when she didn’t need or want much of anything, so I had begun sending her my memories—written recollections of moments we shared or things I cherished about her. So that is what I am giving myself this year since she is no longer here to receive it.
My mother was interested in a lot of things. She bought books she never read, fabric she never sewed, and craft supplies she couldn’t part with even to use in crafting. Among other things, she collected Barbies, recipes, knitting needles, buttons, rocks, porcelain dolls, and MacDonald’s happy meal toys. She went through a woodcarving phase and acquired all of the necessary tools for the craft. One of the few whittling projects she completed was a letter opener.
For many years this objet d’art was handily displayed on the windowsill beside her chair in the diningroom where she opened the daily mail. After she died, I slipped the letter opener into my suitcase to take home. It isn’t the most efficient tool, it’s a little too blunt on the cutting edge, but it works better than tearing into an envelope with my fingers. I own a metal opener—it slices through paper like a hot knife through butter—but I like using the one my mom made.
It is intriguing to me that such a humble, inconsequential item I barely noticed before can suddenly take on so much value and significance. I hold it in my hands, rub my fingers over the smooth, imperfect wooden handle and blade, and think about the hands that shaped it; the same hands that showed me how to tie my shoes, teased my hair into an embarrassing bouffant for the yearbook photo in the seventh grade, typed up a sentimental poem to give me on my wedding day, and labored for six months knitting a sweater for my first baby. It is one of those possessions that cannot be valued in dollars or cents and is, therefore, priceless.