From Catherine Park, Warren's daughter, Evelyn's grand-daughter

Grandma Park's Gifts

My Grandma and Grandpa Park moved to Arizona when I was seven, when my conscious life was just beginning. Before that I time, I remember only that one rainy day they took me to a gray and foreboding church. I was wearing a dark raincoat with yellow flowers. They each held one of my hands and swung me over a puddle in the parking lot.

I didn't get to spend much time with them after they moved. My father and I drove down from Minneapolis for a visit during their first year there. (I was a dinner guest at the home of some of their friends. I was wearing a red dress and white tights, sitting on a sofa in my father's lap. Then I threw up.) I went down again to Arizona for what I thought was an excruciatingly dull week when I was 15. They visited Minneapolis a handful of times. But the real way that I felt a connection with them was through their gifts. Humorously out-of-touch gifts. Even when I was only eight years old, I thought that their taste was askew. When they traveled to Hawaii, they sent me an item made of straw it would hang on the wall and I could sort my letters, bills, and misc, into the different slots. But I was still in elementary school and had no letters, bills, or misc. Pastel-colored polyester quilted head scarves? A napkin ring? A set of ball-point pens? What would a kid do with these things? What did I want with them?

But the gifts came with perfect regularity. Every birthday and every Christmas, I could expect to be entertained and amazed by something from Arizona.

What I was missing, of course, was the point. The point wasn't the ball point pens, or the one-ounce packet of macadamia nuts, the point was that they were reaching out to me, trying to connect with me, trying to stay in touch. They were saying "Hello." They were saying "We're thinking about you. We care about you. We wish you didn't live so far away. We love you."

Once, when I was very small, I sat next to Grandma Park on a couch. She had the most beautiful ring, a dark square stone. I must have been gazing at it, because she explained, "It's topaz. It's my birthstone and it's yours, too. Because we were both born in November." This seemed very special to me at the time, so important. She and I were both born in November. That meant we had something in common, a special link. Our birthstone is topaz.

Last week, I learned that Grandma Park had remembered this, too, and had left me her topaz jewelry. It's a final gift, and this time, not something to chuckle over but something to treasure. I'll wear these stones and think of her. I'll think of them as a symbol of her, of things about her that I didn't understand or appreciate when I was youngerher courage, her independence, her ability to overcome barriers, to make a career and a life for herself on her own terms. She demonstrated to me that a girl can grow up and be whatever, whoever she wants. I think that in the end the most important gift she leaves me is her example: one of confidence, independence, grit, and determination.

I wish I could give her the thanks she deserves, now, for everything.