My mother taught me what the best gifts really are

Published 5:01 pm Monday, March 30, 2020

Before I was born, my mother was.

That was sure convenient.

I was born in 1970, and my mother was born some years prior to that. That’s as much as I’m saying. But Tuesday, March 31, is her birthday, so I wanted to talk about her.

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Lots of important events took place on March 31 throughout history, including the following:

• 1146, Bernard of Clairvaux preached his famous sermon in a field at Vezelay, urging a Second Crusade.

• 1492, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon issued the Alhambra Decree, expelling Jews from their kingdoms.

• 1657, English Parliament offered the crown to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, which he declined.

• 1880, Wabash, Indiana, was the first town to claim to be completely illuminated by electric lighting.

• 1889, the Eiffel Tower officially opened in Paris.

• 1918, the first daylight saving time in the US went  into effect.

• 1930, the Motion Pictures Production Code was introduced, imposing guidelines for film ratings.

• 1933, the Soperton News (Georgia) published the first newspaper on pine pulp paper, now known as newsprint.

• 1944, Hungary ordered all Jews to wear yellow stars.

• 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, and also authorized a troop surge in Vietnam, bringing the total number of US soldiers to its peak, 549,500.

Some people died and others were born on this date, too. Imagine that.

In 1727, Sir Isaac Newton, English physicist/astronomer, died at age 84. In 1855, English novelist Charlotte Bronte died at age 38. In 1980, American Olympic gold athlete Jesse Owens died of cancer at age 66. And in 1993, American actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died at 28 in a firearms accident.

Some notable births were French philosopher Rene’ Descartes (1596), composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685), hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe (1928), fashion designer Liz Claiborne (1929), Scottish rock guitarist Angus Young of AC/DC (1955) and Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (1971).

With the exception of Brandon Lee’s accidental death in 1993 — which I recall learning of on the news that day — I can’t remember ever noting any of these other events as I grew up. And since I was an adult in 1993, I guess I can dismiss that, too.

The only thing that mattered to me on March 31 each year was celebrating my mom. Although some years I got confused and was sure her birthday was March 30.

I remember asking my mother once if March had 30 or 31 days. She said it had 31. I asked if she was sure. “Well, I hope so,” she said, “because it’s my birthday!”

I thought once as a child that my mom was either insane or a liar, and here’s why — I saw on her dresser or table a pencil holder I’d made for her birthday (or maybe it was Mother’s Day) the year before. It was one of those that all kids are forced — uh, encouraged — to make at school or church for their mothers from tin cans and decorated popsicle sticks.

I looked at this creation of mine from my obviously less-artistic past and asked her why on earth she had kept that thing. She said it was because I made it and gave it to her.

“But why? It’s hideous,” was the gist of my inquiry.

“It is not,” she answered me. “You made it for me, and I love it.”

Ah, so there was the answer.

She was bonkers.

No, she loved IT because she loved ME. That’s what made the difference.

My mom has taught me a lot over the years, some through direct teaching lessons (she was even my English teacher in high school) but most through example.

She taught me that gifts given with purity of heart, and driven by love, are the best gifts, even if they don’t look like much to the giver. And that lesson can be applied to so much of life.

I won’t see my mom on her birthday — she lives a couple of hours’ drive from here, and, well … coronavirus — but if I did, I’d give her short frame a gentle but firm hug, kiss her cheek and tell her I love her, partly because she loved me first.

You’re the best, Mom, and maybe only a little bit crazy. Who could stay sane in this family?

Happy birthday, Grammar!

Brett Campbell can be reached at