A very special present

The children 'cheerfully' washing up all the Christmas dishes!
The children ‘cheerfully’ washing up all the Christmas dishes!

Hello everyone and happy new year!  I do hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are all looking forward to a brand new year, with no mistakes in it….yet.  (sorry, one of my favourite near quotes from Anne of Green Gables)

Opening stocking presents
Opening stocking presents in their new Christmas onesies

We had a great Christmas, which as usual was kept very simple.  We tend to make a huge deal of birthdays but keep Christmas a fairly low-key event.  The children were in various musicals, plays and shows prior to Christmas.  On Christmas eve we did our usually traditional Christmas eve celebrations, which I will post about tomorrow, whilst Christmas day and Boxing day was spent with my mum:

There's my mum in the stripy shirt!
There’s my mum in the stripy shirt!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love home-made presents – giving and receiving.  In fact it seems to be cultural in our little family with most of the gifts given of the home-made variety.  T11 gave everyone a herbal sachet, full of delicious smelling herbs he had grown and dried himself; L11 painted a picture on plaster of Gary and I; C11 knitted Ipod covers, scarves and embroidered a piece of material for me; the little girls gave home-made soap and snowflake t-shirts they had made using tie-dying during their school throughout the year.  It was all made with love and thought and we were all chuffed with everything we got.  My present from Gary, however, bowled me over and reduced me to tears.

On Christmas eve Gary came into the living room with a long gift and a twinkle in his eye.  Now I have been married long enough to Gary to know what that twinkle means.  He was very pleased with himself over something and very, very excited.  Nonchalantly, I asked what it was.  ‘A present for you’ was his reply.  And I was to get no more out of him except twinkles.

Next morning, everyone opened their stocking presents and Gary suggested I opened one of my main presents.  So I did.  Obviously I chose the present he’d been twinkling over since the night before.  He grabbed the camera, wanting to get my reaction to his gift.  And I think it was all he had hoped for.  I opened it and as I saw the present, big tears rolled down my face.  Rather unusually for me, I was speechless, too full of emotion:


As I looked up at my gorgeous husband, the love I saw in his eyes was almost my undoing as I tried (but failed) to control myself in front of the children.  That look will never get old for me.  It was the look he had as I walked down the aisle to spend the rest of my life with him; the look that has been present at the birth of each child; was there as he held my hand at the diagnosis of cancer.  Powerful enough to reduce me to tears, tender enough that I know without doubt I am loved from the very core of his being.

Before I show you, I want to share a story.  It is the story, in a way, that precedes this gift.  A story of a man who notices things.

After I was diagnosed with melanoma and my best friend’s Dad had just died from the same cancer (the next day), Nik and I were chatting, crying, and doing our very best to support each other.  Nik turned to me and said that if this were to teach us anything it must be that we ‘seize the day’  Then she said those words.  Carpe Diem.  We’ve talked about this again since then and we both agree that this is probably the most important lesson to come from cancer.  To make every moment count, even the bad ones.  To seize the moment and make it special.  No  matter what.

Gary and I were out on a date, shortly after one of those conversations, wandering down to Pizza Express and we passed a lovely old-fashioned furniture shop.  I had never noticed it before.  Inside was a sign saying Carpe Diem.  Seize the day. Finding that sign in the shop window that night was peculiarly emotional for me.  The sign and what it represented touched something deep inside.  The shop was shut so we were unable to look at it any further.

Unbeknown to me, before my birthday in September, Gary popped down to the shop to buy it for me as my birthday gift, only they had sold out.  He mentioned to me that he had tried, and I soon forgot about it.

But Gary didn’t.  He works on a golf course and a huge Grey Poplar tree had fallen which he had sawn up into manageable pieces and removed from the course, keeping one piece for himself for a very special something that he planned to make.

Each morning he would leave home at between 4 and 4.30am in order to get to work early so he could work on his surprise.  Every morning, right up until the day before Christmas eve, when he brought home his surprise and took it to my mum’s next door to keep in secret.

And this was the surprise that had him twinkling.  The surprise that had given me such joy as I opened it.  The surprise that meant so very much more than any shop bought sign would have.  Gary gave up his time, his sleep, his skills and in the process gave to me a little part of himself.  He had taken a rough piece of fallen, diseased tree and cut it down to just the size he wanted; he sanded, smoothed and polished it until the beauty of the grain was revealed; then he began the job of chiseling out those special words ‘Carpe Diem’, painting them white:


A sign, hand-crafted by Gary.  No gift has ever meant as much to me.  Ever.  Thank you, I love you (and my sign) so very much!

Homegrown Learners