816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider - The gift

“I found this,” my mother said as she handed me a small box. “It’s not your style, but would you like it?”

The thin, rectangular cardboard box showed signs of age but otherwise looked like a lot of gift boxes that have come into and out of my life.

Inside was a large, ornate and tarnished oval locket on a thick, unusual chain. The locket held two black and white photographs of young girls. My mother pointed to the one on the left. “That’s my mother…”

I pointed to the other, “…and that’s mine. I love it! Thank you so much!”

A week later, when things were quiet, I opened the box again and took out the locket. It was heavy in my hand; the whole necklace more ornate than I remembered. I clicked it open to get good look at the photos.

That’s when I noticed that there was more than one picture on each side.

I carefully took the plastic cover off of the picture of my grandmother and revealed a photo of an older woman. When I popped out the picture of my mother, I found two more photos hidden beneath: another of my mom…and one of a man wearing some sort of military uniform.

I quickly snapped a photo with my phone and sent it to Mom. The irony of modern technology linking me with the past gave me a thrill. “Who are these people?”

“The older woman is my grandmother,” she wrote back, “but I don’t know who the man is. It’s not my father.”

Brian walked into the room and pointed at the photo of my grandmother as a girl. “That looks like you.”

“That’s what I heard from all my mom’s relatives when I was young, it’s my grandmother.”

The kids got in on the conversation. I answered questions, told stories about my Polish immigrant grandparents, but the mystery of the man grew deeper, our curiosity greater. The kids wanted to find out who he was. Our minds and conversation filled with theory and fiction.

A few days later, Bekah and I snuck off on an outing. Our town’s downtown boasts several vintage shops and a new one had taken over a store that Bekah and I had spent hours poking around in. The new store looked a lot like the old store, but with more furniture, less jewelry and housewares.

The new owner warmly introduced herself and soon Alice shared her story with us of how they left their life in the Southwest and took a risk on a dream in the Midwest. How she had come to town for a loving, yet sad reason. How she and her husband had visited the old store as patrons and soon found themselves owners of a shop where they could sell previously loved items as well as her husband’s creations of repurposed, refurbished or new-to-look-old furnishings. It struck me as a wonderful gift not only to themselves, but to our town — a compliment that this was a place where dreams could be realized.

Then the oddest thing happened: I started seeing gifts everywhere. Maybe it was the magical lights of the season, the increase in activities or the excitement of the kids at the holidays- but gifts were overflowing in my life.

Some came in boxes like the locket. Most were more abstract and unwrappable like our multi-generational historic quest — like the gift of time with those I love.

Like relating to and admiring people who dove into a long held dream with faith, hope, enthusiasm and a store full of presents from the past.