The Gift Is In The Giving

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There are many times in our lives when we are faced with situations that, depending on our perspective, can be challenges or can be opportunities. I am in the midst of a period of, what I am choosing to call, unexpected unemployment. I know I am merely at the beginning of the next phase- I just don’t know what it is yet.  

In the meantime, it’s the holidays and there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. My most recent service work was for the Edith Dodge Memorial Fund. In 1973, Mrs. Dodge began an annual tradition of surprising local senior citizens with small, unexpected holiday remembrances. The tradition continues today as an all-volunteer nonprofit, town organization.

I set out on Thursday morning to pick up the packages and get my instructions from the “volunteer command central.” I was greeted by several warm and friendly individuals and given specific instructions on my task for the day; buddy up (it’s easier!), dress warm, wear comfy shoes, and be prepared for some unique and interesting elders. Wear your name tag, introduce yourself, give a brief intro of the Edith Dodge Memorial Fund and SMILE!  

On the wall, I was shown a large town map with all the neighborhoods color coded and numbered.  I chose one close to mine and was given my packet containing 22 names and addresses, instructions, and a pen to record who received the delivery, who had moved or who “didn’t want any.” The volunteers helped pack my car with gifts, encouraged me to have fun and graciously thanked me for my help.

I swung by my house, picked up my buddy (my husband) and we were off to make deliveries. He chose the role of the driver and let me be the delivery person - big surprise!!  

At the first house, I rang the bell and waited. And waited. I wasn’t sure the bell worked so I took the big, brass cod doorknocker in hand - and waited. (The volunteers had suggested I give the seniors time to get to the door as it may take them a little while. I was thankful for this tip). A lovely, well put together (meaning she had her lipstick on) woman answered the door. She was so happy to see me and after I introduced myself and showed her my name tag she invited me into her home. 

I was standing in the doorway and the sun was bright behind my back. She said to me, “Dear, can you please move out of the light? I would like to see your face when I speak with you.”  As I did, she asked if she knew me and I replied that we had chatted a few times when I walked my dog on her street.  We spoke for several minutes about our dogs and then she looked at me again and said, “Do I know you?”  I once again told her my name, and reminded her that I was from the EDMF and she said “Oh yes, I remember now.” She informed me that she would be traveling with her family for the holidays and was excited to be with them. She wanted to know if I had the address for the EDMF so that she could send a thank you note for her gift. I gave her the address and inwardly smiled as I thought of “Miss Manners” and the time I went to charm school as a young girl. (Does anyone do that anymore?) I said my goodbyes and she asked me to come by another time for tea. I walked to the car with a tear in my eye thinking, maybe, I will join her for tea.

We continued on our delivery mission and came upon a weathered, elderly gentleman folding a sail on his front porch. I was so excited someone was home, that I leapt from the car and bounded up the steps to introduce myself. This townie was clearly a “salt of the earth” kind of a guy. He told me he is typically away this time of year and was surprised and thankful to receive the EDMF gift. Upon inquiry, I learned that he usually travels the world on his sailboat but that unfortunately, he and the boat were grounded this year as the boat was dry-docked for repairs. Although he was a man of very few words, it was easy to imagine the stories this salty sailor must have from his travels and time at sea.  

At our next stop, I approached the door, rang the bell, and waited. I wondered again if the doorbell actually worked, figuring if I couldn’t hear it, then the senior living here couldn’t hear it either. The home had a large, brass pineapple doorknocker that I used and I waited. A gentleman open the door, looked at me quizzically, and I quickly launched into my Edith Dodge introduction. I thought I had done pretty well when he looked at me and furrowed his brow and said, “If you want me to hear you, you’re certainly going to have to speak up.” I restated my introduction and told him I was delivering gifts to seniors over the age of 80 as part of the EDMF. He barked at me and said, “What are you - part of Big Brother? You know when my birthday is? You know how old I am?”

Yikes! I had to turn this one around and fast. I reassured him I was NOT Big Brother and I was really just a volunteer from EDMF, sharing the holiday spirit of joy and giving. I assured him I was just spreading a little holiday cheer. At first he said he did not want the gift. I let him know that it was ok (even though I thought everybody loved Girl Scout cookies) and asked if he would like his name taken off the list for next year. His face softened, he smiled and slowly opened the door to receive the holiday gift. He held my eye and told me he had just gotten off the phone with his son who had called to tell him that his 12 year old Golden Retriever had just died. I told him that I was sorry and we talked about the importance of pets - how sometimes our relationships with our pets are stronger than the ones we have with the people in our lives.

At the next stop, I chose not to ring the doorbell, but went straight for the big brass knocker - a beautiful whale. My husband called to me from the driveway as the gentleman had come out the side door. This time, we both introduced ourselves and chatted about Edith Dodge. A longtime resident and sailor, this gentleman had written a book about historical aspects of the town and invited us into his home to show us some artifacts. Our conversation wove through historical highlights of the town, the people and some of the homes. What ever happened to the gift of storytelling? 

Darkness was settling in and we decided to call it a night. I thought back to the morning when delivering these holiday gifts was just a task - another item on my “to do” list. I quickly realized after our first stop that delivering packages for Edith Dodge was an honor and a privilege. I had no idea that when people opened the door, their faces would light up, they would invite me into their homes and they would share with me intimate details of their lives. This year, the Edith Dodge Memorial Fund gave me a gift. 

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About the Author:

Kelly is a Boston-based mom with a 20+ year career in the field of Social Work, Education and Healthcare. She is surrounded by awesome men in her life; her husband, her teenage son, and their 9 year old dog, Ruffles (named after the potato chips). Kelly’s love of running helps her work through whatever life throws her way. She’s open to new adventures and takes it as it comes.

 

Kelly McAdams