Real Simplereaders reveal the most precious of presents.

By Real Simple
Updated April 03, 2009
Things to Do Indoors With Kids: Throw a Tea Party
Credit: Burcu Avsar

My mother’s greatest gift came after she was gone. She used a certain perfume that was her signature fragrance, and she hoarded bottles of it, since it was difficult to find. When she was down to her last two, she refused to use it anymore. I begged her to just enjoy it, but she didn’t listen. When she passed away, we found the two bottles of perfume. She probably intended to leave one for me and one for my sister. Now, every time I smell that scent, Mom is with me.

Ellen Ogintz

Monroe Township, New Jersey

I can still recall the present my mom gave me for my 10th birthday. It wasn’t something I had asked for, but I was intrigued because a key came with it. The key went with my first diary. I realize now that my mother had provided me with a special place of comfort for my own thoughts and words. In the bottom drawer of my dresser, that faded, worn diary is tucked away in the back corner. Over the years, writing has been my soothing grace, in good times and in bad.

Dawn Miner

Shushan, New York

Memories. My mother now suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is mentally and physically incapacitated. I am so grateful for the simple but meaningful times we shared when I was growing up, from making cupcakes for my father’s birthday when I was five to playing dress-up in her too-big clothes and donning her frosted, 1970s wigs. Every little detail that is stamped in my memory helps me smile and appreciate the incredible mother she is and the life she gave me.

Jennifer Kopec-McLaughlin

Mountain Top, Pennsylvania

The way her face absolutely beams when she sees me and her voice lightens with happiness when I call her on the phone. Every time. Even after 38 years.

Kristen Harnisch

Darien, Connecticut

My mother gave me red. Yes, the color! She taught me that red and pink are truly compatible (back in the 1940s, this wasn’t necessarily a popular combination), that red is a “neutral” shoe color, and that every room needed a touch of this fiery shade. It is still my favorite color, and I think of my mother every time I use it.

Judy Bolton Jarrett

Columbia, South Carolina

My smile. Whenever someone tells me that I have a great smile, I grin even more, thinking about the person who passed it on to me―my mom. She has the exact same one.

Laura Hylton

San Diego, California

My mom taught me the importance of volunteerism. All through my youth, my single mother was involved in numerous community-service organizations. I have vivid memories of dropping off clothes at the battered women’s shelter and being a buddy at the annual county Special Olympics. I know her volunteerism has touched not only my life but those of countless others as well.

Cindi Gambardella

Kansas City, Missouri

My mother always had a sense of wonderment. The color of a leaf, a sprinkling of snow, the smell of hot soup―she found the greatest pleasure in everyday things.

Nancy Bradford

Houston, Texas

My name. I was named after my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. I never met her but am told I’m a lot like her―a strong woman who stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I’m proud to have her name and carry on her legacy.

Caroline Joyce

Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania

When I was in college, my mother used to mail cards to me each week of a semester, and inside the cards were puzzle pieces. At the end of the semester, I would receive the last piece, and it would always be a handmade puzzle with words of encouragement. Something so small meant the world to me and kept me uplifted during particularly grueling semesters.

Jena Simonds

Atlanta, Georgia

My mother died when I was six, so she’ll never know the incredible gift she gave me. I fell in love with Irish traditional music at the age of 40 and took up the fiddle. I wanted one of my own, but good instruments are expensive. About that time, my aunt called to say that she had found out about a retirement account my mother had begun before her death. That money bought me my beautiful violin. Every time I play it, I try to thank my mom for her enduring gift of music.

Sally Sommers Smith

Burlington, Massachusetts

Integrity. Many years ago, when I was a carefree teen with a steady boyfriend, another young man, the school heartthrob, asked me to a movie. Without a second thought, I accepted. As we were leaving, my mother pulled me aside and said, “I won’t lie for you.” Of course, the steady boyfriend called, Mom didn’t lie, and I learned that the choices we make affect not only many people but also the way we feel about ourselves at the end of the day.

Polly Stevenson

Southampton, New York

Her laugh. My mother and I have the same big, boisterous laugh that people can hear rooms away. There’s no mistaking whether or not we think something is funny, and it has gotten me in trouble more than once. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Katy Kreider

Greenville, North Carolina

I have two moms. One is my birth mother, and one is my adopted mom. My birth mother gave me life; my adopted mother gave me a life.

Linda Luongo

Budd Lake, New Jersey

The greatest gift my mother ever gave me was the lesson that a woman is responsible for taking care of her own body. From my early teens, she would tell me how important it was to find a good gynecologist who I could trust and to make my health a top priority. Before my first visit as a teen, she told me what to expect and why it was important. But most of all, she stressed that not all women had access to health care like I did and that I should not take it for granted. While many of my friends dread going to the gynecologist each year, I always look at the visit as empowering, remembering my mother’s words and feeling proud that I am taking good care of myself.

Lyn Waller

St. Louis, Missouri

When I was newly married and very young, my mother gave me a handwritten cookbook of all my favorite family recipes. Most had comments from her, such as “Monkey bread―will be fun to make with your little monkeys someday.” It also contained a wonderful paragraph about me beginning with “For our daughter, who was never afraid to get her hands dirty.” I cherish it and will pass it on to my daughters.

Carla Cox

Carmel, Indiana

A green thumb. She taught me everything a gardener needs to know: starting seeds, pruning, tips for caring for houseplants and roses, and landscape design. We spent many wonderful afternoons tending our gardens together throughout my childhood, and I hope to have a daughter someday who will want to do the same thing with me.

Shannon Hunnex

Seattle, Washington

The greatest thing my mother ever gave me was the gift of good nutrition. To my chagrin, I got to drink soda only as a special treat. My lunch sandwiches were made with whole-wheat bread. (Try being the only kid in the cafeteria without Wonder Bread.) Any desserts we were allowed to have were homemade, and sweetened breakfast cereals were out of the question (how I coveted Fruity Pebbles!). And if we wanted a snack, we got fruit. At the time, this was beyond irritating, but as an adult I’ve been able to maintain a healthy weight. Sometimes those things you learn as a kid do stick, and to this day I feel guilty when I don’t eat my vegetables.

Sherry Pennell

Baltimore, Maryland

On my 14th birthday, my mother, who was in excruciating pain from terminal cancer, worked with friends for hours to stand up and give me a long hug when I got home from school. It was the first time in months―and the last time ever―I got to be a little girl being held by her mom.

Elaine Atchison Gause

Salt Lake City, Utah

When my mother was a girl, the local library wouldn’t allow her to check out books because she was African-American. So she borrowed them from school whenever she had the chance. As an adult, she made it her goal to always read for pleasure and knowledge. I don’t know whether the indignity of not being allowed access to books was what created her overwhelming desire to possess and read as many as possible, but I’m sure that played a part. So the most important gift my mother has given me is the all-consuming passion to read and to learn. Thanks to her, I know that nothing is out of my reach―not books, not education, nothing.

Tracy Bramlet

Westerville, Ohio

Mom gave me her grace and ease in the kitchen. Watching her cook is like watching a ballet dancer, and she taught me how.

Joanne Schurtz

Fanwood, New Jersey

I come from a family of artists. Some years ago, my mother gave me the most wonderful portrait. It’s a painting done by my great-grandmother of my grandmother, when she was pregnant with my mother. I love the idea that three generations are present in this portrait. It’s the first thing I would grab if the house were on fire.

Catherine S. Vodrey

East Liverpool, Ohio

My first pair of ballet shoes―it was love at first sight. I wore them in my room, at the grocery store, to ballet class, even to the beach! And the best part is that, after 20 years, I still put on those petite pink shoes and take a ballet class at least once a week. Ballet is my passion. Thank you, Mom, for giving me the gift of dance.

Sara Ferguson

Brighton, Massachusetts

My mom filled the year with special days for me and my siblings. For example, on half-birthdays, she baked a round layer cake, cut it in half, frosted a semicircle, and served it after dinner with a “Happy Half-Birthday to You” serenade for the lucky kid. She would pop the other layer into the freezer so there would always be a treat on hand to celebrate one of the other kids.

Catherine Harden

New York, New York

When I was six years old, my mother married my stepfather. From that day forward, he was my dad and always there to pick me up when I fell. Someone once told me that any man can make a baby but it takes a special man to be a father, and he has proven this to be true. My mother could not have given me a greater gift than the loving, supportive man who has always been, and will forever be, my dad.

Wanda Matuska

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Paul, Peter, Stephanie, and Brenden. Just like Mom, they are thoughtful, kind, smart, and without a doubt the funniest people I’ve ever known. And without the love and support of my siblings, I could never have endured her passing.

Mary Jarquin

Potomac Falls, Virginia

She probably doesn’t think of it as a gift, but watching my mother struggle to quit smoking for the first 13 years of my life made it easy for me to say no as a teenager. In addition, she showed me that despite multiple failures, you can keep trying and eventually achieve your goals. I’m proud to say that she hasn’t smoked in 20 years, and I hope that I can live up to her example of strength and perseverance.

Beth Kraft

Alexandria, Virginia

My mother’s greatest gift to me was a positive view of breast-feeding. She nursed all three of my younger siblings for at least two years. She was unapologetic and proud, feeding them wherever she happened to be. She showed me the value of being committed to this beautiful and natural act.

Amy Lacasse

Pepperell, Massachusetts

For my 21st birthday, my mother gave me a report card she had saved from my preschool. The last line read: “We just love her smiley face!” The knowledge that, even as a small child, I had a smiley face was wonderful, but the greatest gift is being reminded each day that the happiness that inspires the smiley face comes from being my mother’s daughter.

Francesca Zelnick

Lansdowne, Pennsylvania

When I moved from New York to California for college, I stayed in touch with my mother primarily through e-mail. I usually wrote once a day, even if it was just a short hello. After I graduated, she surprised me at Christmas with several bound volumes of all the e-mails we had written to each other when I was at school, organized chronologically. The books not only bring back college memories I might have forgotten but also remind me how close my mother and I are, even when we’re miles apart.

Erin Tyner

Los Angeles, California

The gift of decision making. She let me make my own mistakes so I could learn from them. She never cleaned up my messes, never meddled, never said, “I told you so,” but was always there when I needed advice or a shoulder to cry on. That gift is what made me the strong woman I am today.

Saleah Hinton

Glassboro, New Jersey

When I first got engaged, I asked my mother if she had anything from her wedding that I could use for my big day. Unfortunately she had nothing to share and was deeply bothered by this. She thought she could maybe make a hankie with her dress, but when my father took it out of storage, it was too discolored. My mother was determined, so she sat on her bed and picked off every tiny pearl from her dress, then brought them to a jeweler. She created a beautiful three-strand pearl bracelet for me and presented it at my shower, along with a note explaining where the pearls had come from.

Kimberly Peck

Manchester, New Jersey

My mother was ahead of her time. The greatest gift she ever gave me was not putting her generation’s expectations on me. I was a child of the 60s and 70s, and never once did she utter, “When you grow up and get married and have children.…” It was totally up to me to decide what would make me happy. I have remembered that as I’ve raised my own two daughters, and it has made all the difference in the world.

Suze Hetrick

Weston, Florida

The knowledge that she is more than just a mother. When I was younger, I placed her on a pedestal of what I thought a mom should be. Now I realize that she is human, that she makes mistakes, and that being a mother is only part of what defines her as a person.

Sultana Truma

Kearns, Utah

A happy, healthy, well-adjusted childhood.

Dana Grigsby

Hubert, North Carolina

My mother spent my whole life celebrating life’s moments, both big and small. Whether it was a good report card, a big-game day, a new friendship, a holiday, graduation, or engagement, she invested her time, hard work, creativity, and love into celebrating that day. Now that I have my own family, I find myself doing the same―honoring life’s moments, big and small, and pouring my love into the details.

Brie Carter

New Haven, Connecticut

Mom taught me that life does not have to be serious. She always comes up with $5 bets to do crazy things that cause nothing but mischief and laughs. (“Go sit as close as you can by that guy who is at least 10 feet away from anyone else and I’ll give you $5.”) These little scenarios are some of the best stories I have.

Marek Ferguson

Norman, Oklahoma

When I was two days old, I was abandoned on a sidewalk in Seoul, South Korea. My mother adopted me and raised me in a home full of love. What did she give me? My whole life.

Tara Robbins Fee

Washington, Pennsylvania

The knowledge that a cup of tea can help anything. She showed me the difference that a bit of time and a warm, soothing drink can make.

Betsy Flannery

Eagleville, Pennsylvania

The courage to accessorize. My mom allowed me to develop my own unique style―whether that meant pinning every brooch she ever gave me onto my jean jacket or tossing 20 strands of pearls around my neck all at once.

Stephanie Godke

Aledo, Illinois

Mom gave me her passion for foraging. My happiest childhood memories are of digging for clams, picking wild blackberries, and gathering bark for winter fires.

Diane Haines

La Crescent, Minnesota

My mother told me, every day, that I was beautiful inside and out. When the mirror reflected my braces, clunky navy blue glasses, the body of a 12-year-old boy, and that horrific perm, I wanted to doubt her, but she was so steadfast and convincing that I didn’t.

Eileen Costanzo

Broomall, Pennsylvania

Whether she was waking us all on our birthdays by singing at the top of her lungs or performing the best Tina Turner impression ever, my mother had a great gift for being goofy, and she passed it on to me and my sisters. While we turned out to be wildly different individuals, we can all call on that ability to break out and be silly, even in the most stressful of times.

Maria Anderson

Chicago, Illinois

I was born and raised on a tropical island, where rain showers last briefly and the sun always follows. So when I decided to go to college in Philadelphia, I knew I was in for a change. The first time it rained, it poured for three days straight. I called my mom, and she could tell the weather was taking a toll on me. A couple of days later, I received an umbrella―not just any umbrella, but one that opened up to look like a palm tree! I have no idea where she found it, but it made those soggy days in Philly feel like sunny days back at home.

Jessica Schuler

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

My faith. This amazing gift points me in the right direction in both joyful and tough times.

Mary Head

Asheville, North Carolina

My mother gave me a fearless attitude toward growing older. She celebrated each and every birthday with joy. For her 50th, she wanted to hire a marching band. (Instead, she had a very nice party with John Philip Sousa spinning on the record player.) As I approach my 50th birthday this year, I’m holding true to my mother’s example. I welcome each new gray hair and wrinkle; they make me smile and embrace the natural pace of life. My only real dilemma at the moment is what kind of band to hire for the big day―disco or brass?

Teresa Newton

Seattle, Washington

A bra. That helped me grow into a strong, confident, sexy, smart woman.

Andria Head

Pullman, Washington

I was the latchkey kid of a hardworking single mother. It was her expectation that my siblings and I would run the house in her absence. We learned invaluable skills while doing so, even though we didn’t realize it at the time. The result? Self-reliance. I was one of the few young people in my college who knew how to wash and iron their own clothes, pay bills, cook food, and comparison-shop to save money. She really helped prepare me for life.

Pam Stenhjem

Minneapolis, Minnesota

An apology. She told me she was sorry for the mistakes she had made and the unintentional pain she had caused. She told me she had done the best she could possibly do. That freed me from years of hurt and blame. How can I ask for anything more?

Camla Seegers

South Bend, Indiana

The gift of gab. I can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When I was growing up, my mom would talk to strangers as if she had known them her whole life. While this was mortifying to me when I was in my teens, I now find myself making 10-second friendships everywhere I go.

Joyce-Ann Haworth

Barrington, Rhode Island

She taught me how to whistle on a blade of grass. I thought it was the oddest and coolest thing for a mom to know. Now I can’t walk by a patch of grass without looking for the perfect blade to make a sharp whistle. It always reminds me of that special time we spent together.

Michelle Bigham

Cary, North Carolina

I was five when the “present” first arrived, and I hated it. I was jealous because the gift got more attention than I did. But inside that little package was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was my brother, David: the person I lean on, who makes me laugh, and who has supported me through all of life’s challenges.

Sharon Rapoport

Roanoke, Virginia

My unruly curly hair! Years of straightening it came to a halt the day I shaved my mom’s head because her own curly hair was falling out from chemotherapy. When she died a few weeks later, I vowed to embrace the ringlets she had given me and live each day as if it were a Great Hair Day.

Sally Eggleston

Mustang, Oklahoma

Whether she was hiding rubber bugs in my lunch when I was five or sending me love notes in semaphore at 25, the best gifts my mother ever gave me were her sense of humor and her love of spontaneous whimsy.

Mickie Stiers

Columbus, Ohio

My mother left her small southern town to put herself through college. Then, during the racially turbulent 1960s, she made it through Harvard to become the first black woman to get an M.B.A. there. After that, with two toddlers and a husband to care for, she started a successful business. Since retiring, she has continued to reinvent herself, and now, at 60-something, she’s a first-time author. Whenever I feel my life is challenging, I think of her. She gave me the belief that if you want something badly enough, it’s never too late to make it happen.

Darnetha Lincoln M’baye

New York, New York

When I was nine years old, I complained to my mother that I had nothing to do. She handed me volume one of the Nancy Drew series and sent me out to the backyard. At some point, I became fully absorbed. Not only did I finish the book that night but, reading under the covers into the wee hours, I also worked my way through the entire series by summer’s end. I guess I could say the Nancy Drew book was the greatest gift my mother ever gave me, but her true gift was a love of reading. I am 60 now and still reading into the wee hours.

Jane McGilloway

Sea Cliff, New York

She taught me how to love my husband. She has been with my dad for 34 years, and he absolutely adores her. She respects his decisions, laughs at his corny jokes, and holds his hand when they are in public. I married the love of my life last May, and I make it a point to love my husband as fiercely as my mom loves hers.

Laura Rennie

Harrisonburg, Virginia

How to laugh at myself. I am very tall―just like my mom was. I once asked her if I could have an operation to shorten the bones of my arms and legs. In all seriousness, she said, “Yes, but we can only afford to do your legs. So I guess your arms will drag beside you when you walk.” When I finally got the joke, she grabbed me and told me how beautiful I was and how much she loved me. It was her humor and way of looking at life that shocked me out of my teenage bubble of insecurity.

Kris Ashman

Cypress, California

My grandmother’s engagement ring. It was designed by my grandfather for their wedding in 1905, and my grandmother passed it on to my mother when she and my father got engaged in 1930. That ring means the world to me because it connects her life to mine. When my mother was dying at home, after years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she began clicking her ring finger against the bed railing. My sister and I heard that sound and rushed to her room to spend the last hour of her life with her. We believe that, in spite of her condition, she knew something was happening and was making sure we didn’t miss it.

Marca Piehuta

Washington, D.C.

My mother paid for sessions with a wonderful therapist. Mom figured she had done her part to mess me up, so the least she could do was pay to help me get my stuff sorted. I ask, how many mothers would do that?

Kae Beth Rosenberg

Traverse City, Michigan

My favorites? A monogrammed Louis Vuitton bag from the 1970s. And my little sister.

Teddi Ginsberg

New York, New York

What's the greatest gift your mother ever gave you? Share your stories here.