“Mom’s going to really like my present,” Robbie bragged late Saturday afternoon as he brought a heavy box from his bedroom and set it on the kitchen table.
All of us stared at the closed box.
“What’s inside, Robbie?” asked Cherie, my five-year-old sister.
“Mom’s Mother’s Day present,” Robbie answered proudly. “It cost more than twenty dollars.”
“Twenty dollars?” my sister Melanie gasped, her eyes bulging in surprise.
Robbie nodded. “I used the money I earned from working in Brother Winder’s yard.”
“Twenty dollars?” Cherie questioned, cocking her head to one side. “Is that very much?”
“It’s more money than you’ve ever had in your whole life,” Robbie explained without boasting.
“How much bubble gum will it buy?” Cherie wondered.
Robbie grinned. “It would buy bags of bubble gum.”
“Is your box filled with bubble gum?”
Robbie shook his head. “Can you keep a secret?” he whispered, looking at each of us. When we all nodded, he confided, “It’s a toaster!”
“Boy,” I muttered, “Mom will love that. The old one’s about busted.”
“I know,” Robbie said, nodding. “Now I won’t have to hold the toaster knob down by hand any more. This is going to help me out too.”
“I bought Mom a book with some of my baby-sitting money,” Melanie put in. “She loves to read. And I’ve been dying to read this book too.”
I squirmed a little in my chair. I didn’t have as much money as either Robbie or Melanie, but I’d tried to get the best present that I could find. “I got Mom a set of measuring cups and some wooden stirring spoons. Just last week she said she really needed a new set.”
Cherie reached out and touched Robbie’s toaster box. “I think Mom would have liked a box full of bubble gum,” she sighed. She was quiet for a moment, and then her eyes got sad and it looked like she was going to cry. “I don’t have anything to give Mom,” she said, shaking her head. “I already spent my birthday money from Grandma.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Melanie told her kindly. “Mom won’t care if you don’t give her anything.”
“But I’ll care. I want to give her something too.”
“Maybe you could draw her a picture,” I said consolingly. “She always likes your pictures.”
“When you’re little, nobody expects you to give anything, Cherie,” Robbie said. “Don’t worry about it. Mom will get plenty of stuff from the rest of us.” He looked at Melanie and me. “Maybe we ought to wrap our presents now, while Mom and Dad are gone.”
The three of us got our gifts, spread the wrapping paper on the table, found the tape and scissors, and began wrapping.
“I hope Mom will like this book,” Melanie mused.
“If Mom really likes a present, she starts to bawl,” Robbie muttered. “That’s the way moms are. They get all mixed up. When they’re happy, they cry.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want Mom to cry,” Cherie called out. “I’d want her to be happy. I’d want her to laugh.”
“That’s a good idea, Cherie,” I said. “Draw her a picture that will make her laugh.”
“I’m going to give Mom something better than a picture. Maybe it will even be better than a toaster or a book or a bunch of measuring cups.”
We didn’t pay any more attention to Cherie as we finished wrapping our gifts and hid them in our rooms.
A little later, Cherie knocked on the door of the room that Robbie and I share. She stood in the doorway with her hands full of plain white paper, scissors, and tape. “Do you have an old box I could use?” she asked, doing her best not to drop everything she had in her hands.
“So you decided to draw Mom a whole bunch of pictures?” Robbie asked.
Cherie shook her head. “I’m doing something better than pictures.”
“What do you need the box for?” I asked.
“I’m going to fill it up with presents.”
Robbie and I looked at each other and grinned.
“I have an old shoe box under my bed,” Robbie offered. “You can have that.”
Cherie thanked him, then dumped her armload of things into it and disappeared.
Since it was Saturday night, Robbie and I got to stay up late. It was almost nine o’clock when the basement door slowly opened and Cherie climbed upstairs.
“Cherie!” Mom gasped. “Where have you been? I thought you were already in bed.”
“I’ve been making your Mother’s Day present,” she explained. “But I’ll have to finish it tomorrow. I’m too sleepy now.”
The next morning, before we started getting ready for church, we brought our presents in to Mom. We gathered around her in the living room and set our gifts on the table, each clamoring for her to open his or her gift first.
“Wait a minute,” Mom laughed, holding up her hands. “Somebody better wake up Cherie. She’ll want to be here for this.”
“Cherie got up a long time ago,” Melanie said. “She was up before I was.”
“I saw her grab some more paper and head for the basement,” Robbie said.
Dad called to her, and a few minutes later she came thumping up the basement stairs with a huge grin on her face.
“What are you making down there?” I wanted to know.
Her grin got even bigger. “It’s a surprise.”
Mom opened each of our gifts. Dad gave her a huge box of chocolates, a bunch of flowers, and a new dress. Each gift seemed to make her happy and be the very thing she wanted.
“Mine isn’t finished,” Cherie announced, “but it will be.”
“Oh, Cherie,” Mom said, “you don’t have to give me anything. You’re a treasure just being you.”
As soon as we came home from church, Cherie changed her clothes and hurried down to the basement once more, packing another roll of tape and another handful of blank paper.
“What’s she doing down there?” Robbie asked, his curiosity beginning to get the better of him. “I’ll go down and check.”
“Robbie,” Mom cautioned with a smile, “leave her alone. If she had wanted you to know what she was doing, she would have told you.”
When dinner was over, Cherie went back to the basement. All of us watched her go.
As the afternoon passed, each of us tiptoed to the basement door, pressed our ear to the door, and listened. We could hear the snip-snip of the scissors, and the squeak of the tape as she pulled it off the roll. Sometimes we could hear her singing or humming to herself, but there was never anything to reveal her secret.
By suppertime, we were all so curious that we couldn’t sit still.
“Don’t you think I’d better go down and check on her?” Robbie begged.
Mom shook her head as she started putting the supper on the table. “She’ll be all right.”
“But, Mom,” I joined in, “what can she be doing? Maybe she’s passed out and needs some help.”
“I heard her singing just a few minutes ago,” Mom came back with a smile.
“But if she keeps this up,” Melanie pointed out, “there won’t be a piece of blank paper or a strip of tape in the whole house.”
“Then we’ll buy some more.”
Grumbling, we all stared glumly at the closed basement door. Faintly we could hear Cherie’s humming from below.
Suddenly the humming stopped, and we heard her light footsteps on the stairs. A moment later the basement door opened and Cherie stood there with Robbie’s shoe box bulging but taped shut.
“I’m finished,” she announced to Mom with a toothy grin.
“Shall I open it after supper?” Mom asked, looking mischievously at us.
“No!” Melanie, Robbie, and I shouted, hurrying her to a chair and calling to Dad.
“Wait!” Cherie hollered, squeezing between Robbie and Dad so that she could be next to Mom. “I have to be right here when you open it,” she explained.
Slowly Mom pulled the tape from the old shoe box and lifted the lid. The box was packed with tiny white squares folded and taped.
“There are hundreds of them,” Robbie muttered.
“What’s in them?” Melanie wondered aloud for all of us. “Open one, Mom. Hurry.”
Mom reached into the box, took one out, and carefully began pulling the tape off. When she unfolded the paper, nothing was on it! Puzzled, she looked to Cherie for an explanation.
Cherie threw her arms around Mom’s neck, squeezed tightly, and kissed her hard on the cheek. “It has a huge hug and a kiss inside,” she explained when she let Mom go. “Every single one of them has a huge hug and kiss inside. And whenever you’re feeling sad or tired or anything, all you have to do is open one of them.” She grinned. “Of course, I have to be around when you open them, but that’s OK.”
Suddenly Mom was smiling and hugging Cherie, and big tears were jiggling in her eyes. She wiped at the tears with a handkerchief and kissed Cherie on the top of the head.
“But, Mom,” Cherie cried out, a worried look on her face, “I didn’t want to make you cry. I thought you’d be happy.”
“Oh, Cherie,” Mom said, laughing and kissing her again, “I am happy. This is one of the best Mother’s Day presents I’ve ever had. There isn’t anything that I could have wanted more.”
“Are you sure?” Cherie asked.
Mom reached into the shoe box, pulled out another tiny package and began to open it.