A student walked into my office the other day and handed me a simple white envelope with my name on it.
“May I open it now?” I asked.
“I’d like you to,” she said.
Inside I found a small sheet of plain white cardstock hand-stamped in black ink with a beautiful print of ivy, dahlias, morning glories, and curling vines. Then I noticed it was a wedding invitation–hers. Handmade and simply elegant–but not the wedding magazine version of “handmade and simply elegant,” if you know what I mean. This was made from the heart, by a real artist who only cared about her own vision, not aesthetic trends.
“Where are you registered?” I asked.
“Oh, we’re not registered anywhere. I’d rather people just give us what they want to give us. As a blessing.”
I was quiet for a moment. “That is very wise. Thank you for teaching me.”
At my own bridal shower, eons ago, the wedding registry phenomenon was relatively new. Maybe half of our gifts came from the registry, and the other half didn’t.
Many gifts were handmade, especially those that came from the older women in the church. Women who got by on a limited income–a little Social Security, a pittance of a pension. Gentle women who never complained. Women who had lived through The War, or Two Wars, or Two Wars and a Great Depression. Women of quiet resilience and steely resolve and elegant economy.
I remember one gift in particular–four handmade place mats in a 1960s plaid fabric of vibrant greens and teals, oranges and yellows. Printed carefully on the back of each mat, in matching green ink, was the name of the woman who made them.
They were not my style. They didn’t fit the color-scheme I planned for our first apartment. They were nothing I would have chosen for myself.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “Oh! We won’t have room for everything in our tiny apartment! And these don’t really go with anything else–would anyone like to have them?”
The room went quiet with shock. It’s difficult to admit this in public–my utter stupidity and sheer ungratefulness. The one saving grace is that the elderly woman who made the gift was not present.
My cousin’s wife very graciously recovered for me: “I know what you mean. Tim and I have a set of similar place mats. And they’re perfect for picnics! I think you’ll enjoy using them eventually.”
Several years later I happened upon the still-unused place mats in a drawer and I remembered that moment at the bridal shower. I’m glad to say that I had grown in wisdom enough by that point to feel rightly and deeply ashamed.
The place mats are now well worn, and every time I get them out I remember that story. What is more, they now fit my aesthetic–mid-century modern.
Norma Connelly died eight years ago. But I think of her often. And I think of the beautiful gift she gave me–not the place mats, really. But the opportunity to know myself, to see myself, to grow in wisdom, to practice gratitude. To be content with the gifts I am given. To trust to the grace and abundance at the heart of creation. To receive all things joyfully, gratefully.
What a blessing she has given me, over and over again.
Margaret and I smiled at each other across the tea table in my office, and I made a plan to break out the sewing machine this summer. I’ll make her aprons, like the aprons my grandmother made for me. The grandmother for whom I am named–Margaret.
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.