By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 8, 2008
I dig into my wallet and carefully extract the crumpled bills. I have just enough to buy the glittering and gorgeous necklace that I have spotted in the store.
It has rubies elegantly encrusted with diamonds, and all the gems are set in solid gold. And, fortunately, it is just the price that I can afford: two dollars and 95 cents.
Mother’s Day is coming up, and I have saved my allowance for weeks to make this big purchase. With great awe and delight, I watch as the saleslady places the jewelry into a little box, then sends me on my way.
When I arrive home, I hide the package in my dresser until the moment on Sunday when I will surprise my mom. And when that big day does arrive, she turns the necklace over in her hands as if she has never seen anything quite so lovely and luminous. She wears the shimmering strand that day to Mass, while I beam with pride beside her.
Of course, she already knew the secret: I had purchased the item at Woolworth’s Five and Dime, and the jewels were really colored glass. But I was only 10 and didn’t know the difference.
That was a small lesson of love, but one I have never forgotten. It helped me understand how two people can look at the same object—or person—and see very different facets of reality. When I looked at the necklace, I saw the finest jewelry ever.
When my mother saw it, she beheld a little girl’s love.
In my mother’s eyes, whatever this little girl did was wonderful. If I wrote a poem, she had to tuck it away in a special place and then ask me to read it aloud when the relatives came for supper. I hated the readings because I was shy, but I appreciated her making a big deal out of my efforts.
I was an odd duck in many ways, and I suffered greatly at school. My mother knew the other children tormented me for being fat, and she told me about her own childhood. Like the painful day when her aunts had been trying to curl her very straight hair, and one of them had commented that she was terribly plain and would never be pretty.
When I heard that story, I knew her aunts were wrong because in my eyes, she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and I was never shy about telling her.
In high school, when the other girls had started dating, I had little interest in boys. I confided to my mother that maybe there was something wrong with me, since I wasn’t eager to grow up like my friends were.
I remember standing outside on the front steps on a blisteringly hot Miami night, under a generously full moon, while my mother comforted me. She also had been a late bloomer, she said, assuring me that before long, I too would be interested in dating.
Of course, her words came true, and we were soon out shopping for just the right floor-length gown for me to wear to the senior prom.
I gradually became more skilled at getting her gifts. In college, I had a part-time job and could afford to buy her a pretty blouse or a bottle of her favorite cologne. But then, when I was 28, I gave her my last Mother’s Day gift ever, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
You see, she died a few months later.
Each May since then, I have found myself looking longingly at Mother’s Day cards, while imagining what I would give her. Maybe a cluster of rich roses or a velvety robe. Maybe a porcelain tea set with tiny violets adorning the cups.
The gift giving is over, though. I will never again, at least not in this world, watch her face light up as she unwraps the boxes and extracts the treasures lying within.
But I will always remember the gift she gave me on that Mother’s Day long ago. The day when a simple dime-store necklace became diamonds and rubies under her loving eyes.
I learned from her that love can transform even the plainest things into something unexpected and fine. And a mother’s look can change even the most awkward and fat little girl into a princess in a shining gown.
Artwork featured in the print edition for this column is by Jef Murray, who illustrated “Divining Divinity,” a new book by Joseph Pearce. E-mail the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.