A few days ago I heard from someone I knew years ago. M. asked me whether I remembered her. Of course, I remember her! Every day I see the gift she made for me. Inscribed on the bottom of the leather box with the hinged cover:
The sturdy gift has worn very well--hasn't worn at all, though I use it a few times a week, fishing out paper clips. Not one of the stitches or rivets has popped. As far as I can tell from her e-mail, M. is doing well. She was so young when I knew her: I remember her young face.
On the mantel is a blue and white glass vase from J. We were the best of friends; now we are seldom in touch, but when I put flowers in the vase I think of the best of times we had. The vase reminds me of cool spring nights, our tender youth, days in Italy, whimsy.
C. made this pitcher and creamer. C. is infinitely cultured, but the pottery is primitive. He and his creations are vividly alive--orange, green, black-slashed, rough-knobbed.
John gave me the radio. I love to listen to it when I'm cooking or painting. Press a button and the little screen glows an intense blue. Sunday mornings I listen to "The Blues Hangover" on WHRB. That's where I first heard Ma Rainey sing:
I got a big black cat
who sits in my back door
He catches every rat run across my floor
Now everybody wants to buy my kitty.
When I see these presents do I think of the people who gave them to me? Sometimes, sometimes not, yet these things have become part of my daily life. Not one of these things would I have bought for myself, yet they delight me.
The word "present," meaning gift, and the word "present," meaning to be present, come from the same root: the Latin present participle, praeesse, to be before, to be in view. Thinking of these gifts from friends, looking at them more closely today, letting them appear freshly present, I see my friends again.