The Best Gift I've Ever Received
A Kiss Remembered
Back when we started dating, my husband, Neil, and I were out walking and stumbled across a bench in someone's yard. We ended up having our first kiss there. Then on the Valentine's Day after we were married, I came home from work and saw a weathered bench sitting in our living room. Neil had been trying to find the scene of our first kiss for weeks; once he spotted the bench under a blanket of snow, he asked the homeowner if he could buy it. (She ended up giving it to him for free!) Neil loaded the bench into our tiny car, drove it across town, and dragged it up to our third-floor apartment. He even had a little plaque made for it. Now the bench sits on our front porch, and I love to knit there while my kids play in the yard.
- Crystal Mickelsen; San Antonio, Texas
For years my mom and I had a strained relationship. We fought a lot, and I grew up thinking she didn't like me very much. When I left for college I moved away for good. Then four years ago at Christmas my mom gave me a scrapbook she had put together just for me. It told our story: her pregnancy, my birth, my first swimming lessons -- all the milestones in my life. Each picture had captions, so under my ballet class photo, for instance, she wrote, "What beautiful ballerinas -- but you were the most beautiful." I sobbed like a baby when I read it. I realized that this was her way of saying, "I probably didn't tell you enough, but I'm telling you now: I loved every moment of raising you." It was as if years of hurt were healed instantly. Now we have a great relationship; we call and visit each other so much more than before. That book really was a gift of love.
- Cari Andreani; Jacksonville, Florida
While my husband and I were on our honeymoon our fridge died. Everything had to be tossed, including the top tier of our wedding cake, which we were saving for our first anniversary. I cried and cried. When our anniversary rolled around, money was tight so I wasn't expecting anything. Imagine my surprise when my husband presented me with a cake box. When I opened it up, I was surprised to see our cake! He had asked a local bakery to match the colors, design, and flavors. I cried again over the cake, but this time they were happy tears.
- Dawn Fitzgerald; Rochester, New York
When my husband, Allen, and I were still dating, I had a cancer scare and I was seriously freaked out. Before my doctor's appointment to learn my test results, I was venting to Allen on the phone about all the things I had never gotten to do in life. I rattled off all kinds of bucket-list items and finally wailed, "I never even learned to play the guitar!" The next night, there he was at my door holding the most beautiful acoustic guitar. The good news? No, it wasn't cancer. Even better? I realized that this man was so amazing that I had to marry him.
- Jennifer Bourgoyne; San Jose, California
Ticket to Ride
I was 18 years old and had just finished a study-abroad program at a university in Madrid when I received a wonderful gift from my aunt Marie: a train ticket to travel through Europe for three months. I was born and raised in Haiti, so the chance to visit 11 countries -- even if I had to sleep in hostels to do it -- was by far the most life-changing gift I have ever received. Traveling on my own taught me to be independent and resourceful, and now I'm fearless about tackling the next exciting adventure.
- Mimi Gabriel; Kihei, Hawaii
Carved with Love
My father loved woodworking and one of his first projects was a wooden Nativity set, which he proudly displayed in our house each December. Right after the holidays in 2001 my dad's health took a turn for the worse and he died in April. That same year, my mom presented the Nativity set to me for Christmas. I cried when I opened it -- I couldn't believe she had given me such a special gift. Now I proudly display the Nativity in my own home, and one day I'll use it as a tangible way to teach my two children about their wonderful grandpa Dave.
- Cari Noga; Traverse City, Michigan
About three weeks after my father died, in the spring of 2008, my friend Cynthia bought me a dogwood tree from a nursery as a sympathy gift. What Cynthia couldn't have known was that for years, whenever there were important anniversaries or occasions to celebrate, my father would mark them by planting a tree at our family's home in Illinois. Her gift was a perfect memorial to him. For the next year I watched my new dogwood secure its place in my yard. By spring, on the anniversary of Dad's death, the tree was blooming a joyful white.
- Nancy Lovell; Dallas, Texas
My husband, Ernie, and I were both poor cops working second jobs when we got engaged. We could barely make ends meet. We put our wedding rings -- plain bands, no diamonds -- on layaway at the jeweler and hoped to pay them off in time for our small January wedding. On Christmas morning, Ernie pulled out a box and handed it to me. Inside were our rings. He had secretly taken on yet another part-time job to pay for them. When I realized how hard he'd worked to start our life together, I knew I was marrying the right man.
- Carole Lynch; Jacksonville, North Carolina
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2010/November 2011.