I felt honor-bound to eat every one of those oranges—to savor each one as long as possible. They were a gift from my mother, mail-ordered for my 41st birthday, and they would be the last gift that I ever received from her.
The oranges arrived while my husband, daughter and I were visiting my family after Mom’s death. It took a couple of days after our return before I was able to open the cardboard crate with its painted ribbon “a gift for you” and the card: “Love, Mom”.
I ate the first of those “premium” oranges immediately. A couple of them were beginning to show signs of their trip from some distant tropical clime to Wisconsin, where they had sat on my kitchen table for a week— a few soft spots on the otherwise firm fruit. But, I determined then that I would eat every one of those oranges, those last gifts from my Mom.
As I ate my daily orange, I thought of the other gifts that Mom had given me. There were birthday gifts and Christmas gifts and gifts “just because” during the year, including numerous care packages during college and graduate school.
And then, there were the truly important gifts, like the gift of gratitude. Every birthday, every Christmas, any time I received a gift, Mom sat me at the kitchen table, pen and paper in hand, to write thank you notes. Thank you notes were extremely important to my mom, and I was not allowed to write just any thank you notes. They had to be quality ones. To pass Mom’s inspection they had to be specific: where I was going to wear the clothes or what I was going to do with the money? I had to write thank you notes that left the gift-giver feeling glad to have given me the gift.
Early on, I protested and viewed writing these notes as a chore, and then later I viewed them as a challenge. Now I realize that writing those thank you notes made me a more grateful person and showed me how lucky I am that so many people care about me. Going through life with a sense of gratitude has helped me take less for granted, and I know how to be truly thankful for the smallest wonders like a crisp, clear day or the beguiling smile of my daughter.
Writing those thank you notes did something else too. I became a word smith and developed the editing and writing skills that are so important to me today. I’m a writer, and I got my start as a writer at my mother’s knee. She taught me how to consider my target audience, to stick to a purpose, to revise and edit, and never to be satisfied with a first draft. All of those skills I use on a daily basis in my work. But my favorite kind of writing remains the notes that I write by hand on a piece of stationery to the special people in my life.
I cried when I reached the last of those oranges. I’m not sure if I was crying at the loss of my Mother or at the bitter and juiceless taste of an orange that had succumbed to a fuzzy white fungus. Still, I did not want to waste anything as precious as a gift from my Mom. I can almost see my mom’s smiling eyes and hear her laughter as I sighed, cut the last orange in half and ate it, fungus and all.
Thanks for the premium oranges that you sent for my birthday. I have eaten one a day for the last sixteen days. The aroma transports me from February in Wisconsin, and I think of you and all of the adventures we had together. I miss you. I’ve decided that I will start a tradition of ordering a box of premium oranges for my birthday every year, and I will eat one a day until they are gone. It will be a wonderful way for me to remember you and remind myself to go through life grateful for all of its blessings, large and small.
© 2007—2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.