For Christmas I gave my daughter a dollhouse. My dollhouse. My grandfather – Pa, as we call him – built the two-story house in his workshop nearly thirty years ago. He painted it green to match my childhood home. There is a front stoop, front and back doors that open, and curtains in one room. He crafted furniture to go with it. A bathtub made of wood with a tiny faucet. A refrigerator with shelves to fill with tiny food. A kitchen table with chairs. A bed. A crib. An upright piano with black and white keys and a cover that opens and closes. It matched my childhood home in many ways. He gave it to me when I was four.
The thing about this gift was that while excited when I received it, and while I played with it several years thereafter, the real gift of it didn’t come until later. As a four year old, I didn’t grasp the magnitude of what he actually gave me. As I was preparing the dollhouse to give to my daughter, I was in awe at the details in this house. How many hours did he spend on this? How many sketches and problem-solving feats did he encounter as he tried to get that piano just right? How his fingers must have been sore after such work to such a small scale. And all this for me. A four year old child.
Years after I was too old to play with dollhouses, there it sat still in my bedroom. And when I graduated high school and my family moved from my childhood home, the dollhouse came too. This mini relic for me to hold on to. As I wrapped it up for Plum to open on Christmas, I sat there in wonder at the treasure this object has become. A vessel of memories. A testament of my Pa’s love.
This dollhouse may not hold the same value to Plum, but maybe someday it will. Or perhaps there will be another gift, another labor of love yet to be made, that will give her the best gift. The gift of knowing she is beloved. The gift of understanding another person more deeply.
My dad gave me a box of letters a few years ago. My parents wrote each other while they were dating. My dad kept her letters. My mom was a writer, and fortunately we have many of her poems and stories she wrote. After her death, they were compiled by family and a dear friend. Over the years they have been a link for me to know a mom who was no longer there. I clung to her words like a life-raft some days. They were her legacy, and an insight into a woman I only knew as a small child.
So, the letters. That gift was more than paper and ink. It was a gift of my dad’s vulnerability. It was the gift of understanding my parents early years together. It gave me more of the woman I have always longed to know more deeply. Those letters are a treasure to me.
All of this made me think of the gifts we bring to each other, whether holiday season or not. What gifts mean the most and last the longest. The gifts of time, talent, energy, and emotional connection. The gifts that are not physical presents, but everyday actions of love. The most important ones to me have always shown me more of the person who is giving. I know them better. I see their love in full display. This also makes me think of what gifts I bring to others. Most of the time, I miss the point completely. How does the gift I bring show the person I love them, and help connect us? Am I bringing the best of myself in the gifts I offer? Those gifts of simple, daily giving of myself for others, as well as the gifts for special occasions? That is what I want to remember after all of this.
I imagine my Pa working at his workbench, hunched over the table with a bright light focused on his hands. He has tweezers in one hand and glue in the other. The miniature upright piano is on the table. Half of the piano keys have been laid and his hands are starting to cramp. The tiny white key is the size of a grain of rice. He thinks of his granddaughter. He takes a breath, steadies his hand, and continues his work.