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The Best Gift I Ever Received

The Best Gift I Ever Received

You may be wondering why a plastic garbage back is a symbol for the best gift I ever received. I hope you find it to be a touching story. It was fun for me to reflect upon this gift that I received nearly 37 years ago. Curious? I hope so. Please read on…

I am hooking up with a Midlife Boulevard blog hop with the prompt, “The Best Gift I Ever Gave or Received.” I sat in my kitchen and thought long and hard. At first, nothing came to mind. I thought about sweet gifts from my kids and my husband, but suddenly, a gift from my childhood popped into my head and I realized it was the best gift I ever received.

My parents were newly divorced. They decided to split my brother and I into the complimenting gender household so my brother moved with my dad and I moved with my mom. I was only 7. We were not even in the same town or school system. I now have this unique identity of being a sibling and an only child all at once.

Times were tough. My mother went back to school to complete a masters degree so that she could make more money. My father paid $500 a month in child support when we were lucky. I was on the free lunch program and we were on food stamps. We lived in the basement apartment of this sweet landlady named Dorothy (we called her Dot) in a very mixed socioeconomincal suburb to New York City. One of the things I remember most were the cement stairs that led down to our apartment. I was a latch-key kid letting myself in after school because my mother was still at work or school.


My neighborhood was not quaint at all. It was overcrowded with row houses on one side. Some were a bit fixed up, but most were rather run down. Many families lived in multi-family dwellings like I did. Families with 3-5 kids crammed into fewer bedrooms than they needed. We lived across from a huge apartment building with no parking garage so the streets were crammed with parked cars. We played in the streets and yelled, “CAR!” when we needed to break up a game to get out of the way.

I also had friends who lived in what seemed like enormous mansions to me at the time. Meanwhile, they were probably typical 4-5 bedroom colonials, but they had what seemed like HUGE yards with white picket fences, and piles of gifts for the holidays. I knew they were living the American Dream and I was not.


When I visited these homes, I definitely felt like I was the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s funny though that when I was bullied, it was from my neighborhood kids and never from the kids I thought were the “haves” while we were the “have nots.”

Probably the only positive side to having divorced parents was knowing that there might be an extra gift at my dad’s house. He always shopped last minute on Christmas Eve and found a cute stuffed animal for me to cuddle for the weeks I was not with him.

My mother had very little money to buy us gifts. We needed to focus on necessities like food and clothing. We had a small artificial tree with just a few ornament, most that were handmade. My mother made plaid ribbons to tie to each branch to make it look more full and festive.

One morning a few days before Christmas, there was a white plastic bag on the the steps leading down to our underground front door. The type of bag that would typically be used for household garbage. But this bag, this amazingly wonderful bag, was filled with presents. I could not believe it. Where had it come from? Who knew that we were in need? I truly felt like Santa had stopped by early to bring us a little extra cheer.

For some reason, I don’t remember many details of what was in the bag. I vaguely remember a toy or two and I think there was a sweater and some perfume for my mom. What I remember most vividly was the bag itself. How one very simple white garbage bag filled with surprises made us feel special. The fact that some anonymous donor made us feel loved and a little less alone is something I will always remember.

My mother died in 2008 at only 64. I don’t think we had spoken of this memory in ages. It would be nice to chat with her about it today. That bag also taught me how to give to those less fortunate. In my adulthood, I consider myself extremely blessed to have achieved the American Dream. I have a home with a large yard, a wonderful husband, two kids, and a dog. No picket fence, but hey, you can’t have it all, right? Seriously, I know that I am very lucky. Others in my shoes have struggled to move up the economic ladder. I try to teach my children how lucky we are and how we need to help others who may not be so lucky.

Reflecting on this gift that I received so many years ago made me realize that I’ve not likely given something quite as special. I need to work on that.

Please take some time to visit the other wonderful stories for this blog hop. May you have a very happy and healthy holiday season and new year.

Comeback Momma Siggy

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  2. Brooke says:

    Things like this are exactly why our family gives to charity now. What a beautiful story! I grew up very poor, but in a two-parent household. My mother sacrificed a chance at a career to have me at only 17 and my father worked very hard to provide for us. What a blessing it is, not just for the kids, but for the PARENTS to have someone help with things like that so that they don’t have to feel like their child is missing out.

  3. Great story from a perspective I don’t read much about! Thanks for the timely reminder that yes, simple acts of kindness can make all the difference!

  4. Thanks for sharing this story. I was raised by a single mom. Hooray for all of your mom’s hard work and for the kindness shown by whomever gave that gift. It’s nice for others to loan support.

  5. You never found out who left the presents? I bet they felt as good as you did that day.

  6. This is a beautiful story, Jennifer, and a timely reminder.

  7. Haralee says:

    What a lovely post. Where did the bag come from?

  8. I love giving anonymous gifts. Last year I bought $5 Starbucks cards and left them on strangers’ windshields with a note to have a happy holidays and remember the Newtown victims. This year, I’m headed to Target to pay off a layaway account for someone. It gives me such a thrill – as much of a thrill as you must have felt being the recipient of such thoughtfulness. What a lovely story.

  9. Pat says:

    Such a beautifully written story and a reminder to us all to spread the joy this holiday season by giving to those less fortunate than us.

  10. Patty says:

    That is a wonderful story. Some of my best Christmases were those when I was working and in charge of the toy collection project at my bank for families in our area. My heart just swelled when we delivered the toys to the police station for distribution.

  11. Sabrina says:

    What a wonderful story! All it takes is thoughtfulness to make someone’s Christmas memorable.

  12. Dede says:

    Jenn, I totally understand what you mean. We, too, lived in a basement apartment. I thought that people who lived in houses were the epitome of wealth and luxury. When I think back on those days, it reminds me of how one small gift felt like the world. Thanks for the reminder to share with others, especially those who might not enjoy as much this Christmas.

  13. Cinny says:

    What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing

  14. Lena says:

    Love the color – bold bold bold!

  15. Lena says:

    What a great story! I love learning more and more about you

  16. Lovely Lovely Lovely Jennifer. THis could be a Hallmark story. Thanks for sharing it with us all.

  17. Jenna Wood says:

    What a touching read and a great symbol of the human spirit and kindness. This certainly is a great tale to pass down to your children today!

  18. Caitlin says:

    Great story. Isn’t it amazing how it’s so often an event that gives us fond memories, rather than anything we can buy? I couldn’t tell you about any of the gifts I received as a child, but I can remember the traditions that I now pass onto my children. Thanks for the touching story.

  19. What a wonderful story. We have always given back at the holidays and during the year. At one point, we were a family who needed help so it is important to me to help now that we can.

    • Jenn says:

      I think it means so much more when we have come from a background of needing help ourselves. We can truly relate to those in need.

  20. What a lovely, thought-provoking story for a cold morning. Thankyou!

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