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My mother was an ardent re-gifter. As a child I could never savor the joy of opening a Christmas or birthday gift because I knew it would vanish by evening, only to reappear days or weeks later, gifted to a cousin or aunt. I learned that gifts were merely “things” that passed through my hands and went on to others.
My vain attempts to hide gifts were always discovered. There are only so many places a child can tuck a china bride doll or a plush white rabbit. My mother would confiscate the object of my affection and place it high in the hall closet shelf where it would be saved until I was “old enough to appreciate it.” I never seemed to reach that magic age of appreciation, but my cousins did. Weeks later I would find the china doll or the plush rabbit staring back at me from some other child’s toy box.
At the age of eleven, I helped my aunt inventory a house she purchased in an estate sale. It became the most exciting Saturday of my life. From basement to attic I scampered with my yellow pad inventorying the pieces of someone’s left-behind life.
I discovered an old desk in the attic under an eve. The poor thing was barely able to stand on rotten wooden legs. Ever so gently I opened every drawer hoping for treasure, not monetary, but something that would set right my world. In the back of the bottom drawer I found three small, old, crumbly books. My hands shook with excitement as I read the dates. The books were printed in the late 1800’s.
Two of the fragile books were The WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE and contained such chilling classics as THE GOLD-BUG and SOME WORDS WITH A MUMMY. The third book was PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. My aunt gifted the books to me.
I could not hide all three books for very long without discovery and subsequent removal to that unreachable closet shelf. It would break my heart to see them re-gifted. I read Poe’s stories that very night, committing them to memory. The next day I gave the Poe books to my best friend Patricia. I knew she would love and treasure them as much as I did. And she could protect them from the re-gifter.
I kept PRIDE AND PREJUDICE hidden under my mattress. Reading and re-reading it, I defied detection for months. And then one day I came home from school and the book was gone. The re-gifter had struck.
When I begged for the book to be returned, my mother pronounced it unfit reading for an eleven year old. She told me she would keep it until I was sixteen. That was her way of saying it was on its way to someone else’s hands and I would never see it again. In the coming years I would often borrow a copy from the library, but it was not the same as the intimacy of possessing my own Jane Austen.
My dear friend Patricia and I stayed in constant touch as life took me around the world. Decades after I gifted her with the Poe books, Patricia surprised me by re-gifting them to me. As I touched their tattered paperboard covers, I once again felt that surge of excitement for a treasure rediscovered.
But where was my dear copy Pride and Prejudice? Had it traveled far? Was someone holding it dear? Was it spending the night in loving hands?
My childhood dream had been to write novels. As a single parent I spent years working long hours to support my daughter and did not have the time to write. One day, I could bear it no longer. I began to write with a pent up energy.
Writing light comedy novels soon became my world. I took all that had happened to me in a life lived with humor and spun those events into adventures for comedic heroines who feared nothing and laughed at their own foibles. Stretching in a virtual reach for that top shelf in the closet, I recovered some of what I had lost as a child. It is said that most comedy stems from a broken heart and perhaps that is why I write to help fill the cracks in hearts I’ve yet to meet.
An online friend Elizabeth Ann West told me of the joy she found in writing Jane Austen variations. I read her novels with amazement. It was as if Pride and Prejudice had continued in a parallel universe.
Elizabeth suggested I turn my comedic contemporary voice to the timeless characters of Austen’s novels. At first I doubted I could enter such a respected genre, after all, I wrote comedy, but then so did Jane Austen. Tears filled my eyes as I realized I could rescue Pride and Prejudice from that high-up virtual closet shelf. Darcy and Lizzy could be my fantasy friends, again.
Elizabeth Ann West had re-gifted a childhood treasure to me in a most unexpected way, Thank you, Elizabeth.