On a blustery day about a week before Christmas in the mid-1970s, I stopped by to visit my parents in their 55-and-over mobile home park. I wanted to drop off some presents for them. After explaining that my mother had gone out shopping, my father asked me to wrap a present for him.
“It’s for your mother,“ he whispered—as if she were still there.
With that, he pulled a large box out of a shopping bag and handed it to me.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I looked at it, stunned. I couldn’t even answer him.
There, on the side of the box, was the picture of an enormous, circular mirror that was mounted on a stand with hideous light bulbs completely surrounding it. According to what was written on the box, the mirror tilted, with the reverse side offering ten times magnification. It reminded me of a performer’s dressing room mirror.
I stared at it, speechless, trying to remember if I had ever seen such an impractical gift. In fact, I considered the possibility that this was the worst gift—bar none–that my father had ever chosen for my mother. And some of them had been memorable, to say the least.
“I think she’ll get a big kick out of it,“ he said.
Somebody will get a kick all right, I thought, but it probably won’t be my mother.
Why would my poor father think that my mother would want to see–close up and magnified tenfold–lines and imperfections that she might not have seen in a regular mirror for more than twenty years.
And then I nearly fainted when I thought that those same lines and imperfections would be emphasized even more blatantly by the dozen or more light bulbs surrounding the mirror!
“Did you get her anything else, Dad?” I asked weakly, pitifully—hoping that if he had bought something else, it might mitigate the effect of this monstrosity.
“Nope, that’s it,” he answered, “I’m sure she’ll really like it.”
I gulped hard, but said nothing. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
After wrapping the gift in silence, I placed it on the floor under their tree with the other gifts.
I left a little while later–before my mother returned–and promised my father that I would return Christmas afternoon. All the way home, I could only wonder what my mother would say when she opened that package.
When I arrived Christmas afternoon—apprehensive about what I might encounter—I found my mother sitting on her recliner, taking a break from cooking the small chicken she was preparing for the two of them. Her days of roasting twenty-plus pound turkeys for her large brood had ended long ago. Her eight sons and daughter, most of whom lived out of state, usually visited during the days leading up to Christmas Day and then spent the holiday with their own families.
A quick glance at my mother assured me that she wasn’t upset, but I refrained from asking her about “the present.” I hoped she wouldn’t bring the subject up.
“Did you see what your father got me?” she asked suddenly.
I didn’t answer her at first. Instead, I looked over at my father, who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, smiling.
“Actually, I did,” I answered, “I wrapped it for him.”
“I knew your father didn’t wrap it,” she said.
Uh oh, I thought, I’m going to hear about this. She’s probably going to ask me why I didn’t tell him to return it and get something else.
“What did you think of it?” she asked.
“Well, it certainly was an interesting choice,” I said, trying to gauge her mood.
But when I looked back at my mother, she was smiling.
What? Smiling? Why? I looked again at my mother, then back at my father, and then back to her.
What had I missed?
She was definitely not angry or annoyed. If she had been, I would have detected it. She was not a woman who hid her feelings well. But at that moment, the only emotion visible on her face was amusement.
Suddenly, I caught them smiling at each other.
It was only then that something finally dawned on me.
I rose and walked over to look out the window at the cold, dark day. I could feel tears forming in the corners of my eyes.
How could I have been so clueless?
I knew in that moment how wrong I had been. My father had never even considered his gift as something that would glaringly show all my mother’s imperfections. Instead, it was a gift that would reflect what he saw– her beauty, the beauty he still saw after all those years.
And my mother must have known that.
It seemed suddenly obvious to me that if he thought the gift was perfect for her—then that was all that really mattered to my mother. And so she had accepted it happily and graciously–even if she would never use it.
As I stood looking out the window, I had to remind myself that love sees through different eyes. I had no doubt that my father still saw my mother as the girl he had fallen in love with fifty years earlier. To him, she was still his 1920’s flapper, his Clara Bow, the one he had met in the stairwell of the old church, the one whose picture he had taken as she stood at the corner of 13th and Race with a garland in her hair.
She would never change in his eyes—and she knew that. No wonder they were both smiling.