“Perfect Gift,” Tambuli, Feb. 1995, 15
“You’re never going to finish that thing in time,” Mark said to his eleven-year-old sister, Annie, as he passed behind her chair. In his hands he gently held a honey-colored wooden box, smooth and gleaming in the spring sunlight.
Annie stared glumly at the tangled mint-green yarn in her lap. “You got help from Dad with yours,” Annie defended herself. “No one will help me with this hat.”
“That’s because none of us knows how to crochet,” said Bonnie, Annie’s 14-year-old sister. “The only one who could help you is Mom.”
Annie jumped up, grabbing the yarn in both hands. “Just you wait,” she yelled back as she raced up the stairs. “Mom’s going to love it!”
But Annie didn’t really believe it. Bonnie’s painting was propped up to dry against a wall in their bedroom. It was a watercolor of the park, all grass and trees and flowers and blue sky. Mother would love it! She would also love the old box that Mark had sanded and refinished. It would be perfect for her scarves. But this hat—if it was a hat—no one, not even Mom, could even pretend to love.
The stitches weren’t really stitches at all, just tight, stubborn knots. Annie had to find a way to fix it. After all, it had been her idea to make gifts to welcome Mom home from the hospital. And now it appeared as if even her 10-year-old brother could do better than she could.
She glanced at the clock and saw that it was already 4:30. Bonnie soon had to leave for ballet class, and Mark was knee-deep in homework. It was up to her to start dinner again if Dad was to have any time at the hospital with Mom. She had been there for two long weeks! Even the tangle of mistakes in Annie’s hands couldn’t make her feel sad when she remembered that Mom would be home tomorrow.
After the dinner dishes and her own homework were done, Annie got right back to work. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, her long brown hair brushing her cheeks, when Dad softly knocked. “How’s it going, Annie?”
“Oh, Dad,” Annie admitted reluctantly, lifting her aching neck, “I just go around and around, and the stitches just get smaller and tighter.”
“How about giving it up for a while, honey,” said Dad gently. “We have a big day tomorrow. You look very tired.”
“I have to finish it before Mom comes home,” Annie said with determination, “even if it takes all night.”
“Annie, I want you in bed by 9:30 at the latest,” he said firmly. “Mom will understand, I promise.”
The next morning Annie watched from the door as Dad helped Mom walk up the brick path. She looked thin and white, and she leaned heavily on Dad’s arm. But she was smiling up at Dad and laughing as she always did.
In an instant Annie was in her mother’s arms.
“Gently now, Annie,” laughed Dad as Annie hugged Mom hard.
“It’s all right, John,” Mom said, holding Annie close. Soon Mark and Bonnie were there, too, and Mom was hugging them and saying how much she had missed them all.
“We have surprises for you,” Mark told her. “Come and see.”
Dad’s bouquet of pink carnations was next to the two wrapped gifts on the living room table.
“Now, what’s all this?” Mom asked, smiling as she sat on the sofa.
Mom really liked her presents. Annie felt awful that there was nothing there from her. How could she explain about the hat? She couldn’t. Edging out of the living room, she escaped into the kitchen and finished making the tuna salad for lunch, stubbornly blinking back her tears. She couldn’t let Mom see them. That would make things worse.
She was putting a pan of soup on the stove when she felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder. “Look at this nice lunch you’ve made, Annie,” Mom said quietly.
Annie turned to face her mother, and this time she couldn’t blink away the tears. “But I have no present for you, Mom,” she said. “I wanted it to be so perfect—a lacy crocheted hat to look pretty with your hair—but …”
“Shhh,” whispered Mom, putting her arms around Annie. “Don’t you think Dad’s told me about all that you’ve done here while I was in the hospital? With Bonnie’s ballet recital coming up and Mark so far behind in his schoolwork, you have had to do more than your share of the work. Dad doesn’t know what he would have done without you.”
“But Mark and Bonnie made such nice things for you, and mine turned out just horrible.”
“Do you want to know what I think? I think you gave me the most perfect gift you could have given.”
“You gave of yourself for two whole weeks without any thought of a reward, and I bet that after lunch and a nap for me, we can figure out that hat and finish it together in no time.”