The year was 1987. It was both the worst and the best year possible. In January that year, we fell hard from the huge high of having our first baby, Sam, the previous year.
We learned on a cold but mockingly sunny January 1987 day at Riley Hospital that Sam had the heart defect Tetrology of Fallot, and would require open-heart surgery.
In a matter of moments, we experienced both horror and hope: horror that he would go through this; hope that doctors said he could be fixed. The following July, at 11 months old, Sam’s open-heart surgery took place – the scariest day of my life – and a little over a month later we took our baby home in time to celebrate his first birthday – happiness – and in our post-trauma, begin to relax and move on toward a normal life.
That Christmas of 1987, I gave my mother a project. It was a fill-in-the-blank memory book about her life. I wrote this: Mom, Here is a winter 1988 project for you. If you would work on this a little at a time I’m sure it would be a wonderful keepsake for Sam someday. Love, Donna.
I’m not sure when she handed it back, but she did, all neatly filled out, with some family genealogy, favorite memories, story of how she met my dad, remarks such as her favorite entertainer (Clark Gable) and songs (Irving Berlin tunes).
Her completed memory book was tucked away in our glass-front antique cabinet with our other special books, and basically – I forgot about it. Until this morning.
One of my Christmas gifts yesterday from son, Sam, and his wife, Allison, was a fill-in-the-blank journal about my life, called Mom, Tell Me Your Story.
My daughter-in-law Allison told me that she was excited for me to complete the book and at some point, return it to her and Sam.
This morning I sat down to fill out a couple of pages and thought I’d look in Sam’s baby book for some dates. Next to his baby book was that journal of my mother’s from the winter of 1988.
I spent some time reading Mom’s memories, such as that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president she voted for, and that she was most proud of me when I was in 4-H. Mom wrote, “She was very dedicated to her projects and worked very hard and had great displays.”
How did I not know that she felt that way?
On the last page of the book, under the writing prompt: I hope you’ll always remember, Mom wrote to Sam that she hoped he’d grow up recalling:
Coming to the farm where your mom grew up and all the things you enjoyed while here. How much your grandma and grandpa loved to see you and dad and mom come. Always love and respect your dad and mom. You were very ill when you were a little 1-year-old and had your heart operation. Many prayers were said for you from many people and they were answered.
Wow. My daughter-in-law Allison could have had no idea at the double gift she gave me. The book for my own recollections is lovely, yes, and the gift of reading my mother’s thoughts and memories in her own hand – priceless.
At last, I know just when the right time will be to hand over my mother’s memory book to Sam. It will go to him when I hand back my memory book.
I just hope it doesn’t take me 28 years to complete.