The Most Perfect Gift
Oh, err….it’s lovely Gina, how clever.”
I watched mum lovingly caress the soggy brown toilet roll tube in her hands whilst discreetly wiping the vivid, still wet, purple paint from her fingers onto her pinny. She grimaced as the pink pipe cleaner I had twisted into a myriad of coils before gluing it onto the cardboard, pricked her thumb.
“I’ve never seen such a beautiful umm.. beautiful… robot, yes it’s a robot isn’t it?” She looked at me, cheerfully expectant.
I felt a deep stab of disappointment as one eye started to sting with the onset of tears. That was something else I would ponder in years to come. Why, when I wanted to cry, did only one eye fill up and brim making me look like I had a festering eye infection rather than a dramatic display of pique and mortal hurt.
I was distraught. Only the week before I had failed in my quest to obtain a Blue Peter badge….. and now this!
“It’s a oonicorn mummy, a purple oonicorn.” My bottom lip quivered.
Mum looked at the creation again, turning it over in her hands. “Yes, of course it is, how silly of me…” She placed it on the kitchen window sill in the weak March sunlight and then turned to fold her arms around me. “… and it’s a very beautiful unicorn too, I’ll treasure it forever, thank you sweetheart.”
This was my forever memory for Mothers Day, 8th March, 1964.
Many more years and many more Mothers Day’s were to follow. As those years progressed I fell away from the self-made creations and started buying from local stores and then as my earning capacity increased, I perused the more up-market Debenhams, M&S and Lewis’s. Each year I felt the need to outdo the previous years offering, always searching for the ‘perfect gift’.
“Bloody hell Gina!” Mum sat on the sofa, wrapping paper strewn across the multi-coloured shagpile carpet as she held the most hideous silver blue FM stereo radio in her hands. I grinned, safe in the knowledge that neither my brother or my sister would outdo this years little offering. I had used a fair whack of my clerk typist wage to purchase this fabulous 1970’s piece of equipment to replace her old Roberts one, which was only just about managing to pick up signals from passing police panda cars, let alone the Bee Gees squawking Stayin’ Alive in falsetto.
She sat with it perched on her knee.
“Look mum, see this button here…” I excitedly pointed to the highly polished chrome disc. “… if you press this…”.
My finger hovered momentarily over it…….
…. and forty-five minutes later we were ensconced in A&E with Mum sporting a large cotton wool plug randomly stuffed up her left nostril to stem the flow of blood. I sat meekly next to her, suitably chastised, pondering the speed a telescopic aerial, with one press of the button from my deftly positioned finger, had shot right up her nose with some considerable force. Mum’s silence, apart from the odd snotty snort, gave me the time to also nostalgically muse the benefits of bog roll tubes and Blue Peter creations.
The following year I duly arrived on mum’s doorstep, a bunch of daffodils clutched in my sweaty hand along with a carefully wrapped present and card. After my massive fail the previous year I was desperate to compensate and had opted for a very muted, safe gift to show my undying love and appreciation for all the years mum had tolerated me – and my unintentional attempts to kill her, the aforementioned radio episode being merely one of them.
“Oh it’s lovely Gina.” Mum smiled as she read the words inside the Hallmark card, pecked me on the cheek and then placed it with a flourish of pride next to the other two cards on the mantlepiece. A knot formed in my stomach as my offering suddenly became wholly pathetic in comparison to the cards my brother and sister had sent. It sat in hunched desolation, dwarfed by padded satin on one side and glittery crystals on the other, a lost sub-standard exhibit displaying a curled up 35 pence price tag.
Suddenly my ‘safe’ gift, still clenched in my hand, seemed even more of a disappointment. I could visualise through the brightly coloured paper the two pairs of carefully folded M&S belly-button hugging knickers complete with airflow crotch. Why I had thought an airflow crotch would be gratefully received by mum, I had no idea, but it had sounded rather exotic and useful at the time. So having toyed with fanciful visions of mum being able to fart in complete comfort as she perused the Biscuits, Crackers & Tinned Fruit aisle of the local Co-op whilst wearing a pair of these beauties, I had parted with my money to the snooty sales assistant.
“Thank you sweetheart.”
If she thought they were as hideous as last years radio, she never let on. Over the years, every gift I produced, with either a flourish, a hint of one-upmanship over my brother and sister, or just plain gut-churning excitement, would just be happily accepted with a smile. I remember feeling a sense of achievement that as an adult, I could now buy better Mothers Day presents for her, take her out to a posh restaurant for dinner or buy her a bottle of her favourite tipple. The naff hand-made stuff she had endured year upon year had been resigned to a mere embarrassed memory. Now my mum got only the good stuff.
That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The hype, the lush Mothers Day ranges stocked by supermarkets, the bigger gifts, the better gifts, the more expensive gifts.
……that’s what I thought too…. until 26th March 2006.
This was my first Mothers Day without my mum. She had sadly passed away the month before from cancer and I was to experience this day, the one that had played such a huge part in our family life, without being able to buy that all important present, without being able to kiss her, tell her I loved her, to show my appreciation of her and to thank her for being my mum. Instead I took a bunch of her favourite roses and placed them on her grave.
It struck me that day that I was not alone. Each grave bore the telltale signs of a son or daughter visiting their mum. There were so many flowers, so many graves, so many lost mums.
I realised in that moment that I didn’t care anymore about silver blue radios, Ponds Cold Cream, M&S Knickers with Airflow crotches or even our lighthearted one-upmanship with cards. There would never again be a need for me to excitedly choose a different gift as every Mothers Day would now be the same, just a heartbreaking sense of loss and a bunch of roses from Sainsbury’s.
I sat down next to her grave and wept.
Two months later I finally plucked up the courage to go through mum’s things. As the clock ticked away the hours, I filled boxes with clothes, handbags and shoes, sorted donations for the charity shop and the local hospice whilst keeping a separate box for anything that was sentimental. As dusk descended upon the spare bedroom, one small, battered box remained. I lifted the lid, pushing the cardboard flaps to one side…..
…..and there it was.
My ‘oonicorn’. My beautiful purple ‘oonicorn’.
Squashed, faded and missing half of the pink fluff that made up the pipe cleaner, but there was no mistaking it. It was my unicorn and mum had kept it.
Just as she had said on the 8th March, 1964…..
“I’ll treasure it forever.”
… and for over 42 years, she had.
A huge lump formed in my throat. As my rogue one eye, still doing its party trick, brimmed with tears, I broke down sobbing. Holding mum’s treasure in my hand, I knew then, just as I had on the day I had given it to her in my childish innocence, it was and always would be, the most perfect gift.
It had been there all the time.
Grabbing the nearest thing to hand, I used the soft cotton to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. Holding it up to the fading light to check what ghastly deposit I had just snorted on it, I started to laugh…..
.…. at the rather large pair of M&S knickers complete with Airflow crotch and price tag, that was dangling from my fingers.
Happy Mothers Day, Mum…. wherever you are!
My love, always,
© Gina Kirkham 2020