Jackie always gave me the best gifts. We were the kind of girlfriends who exchanged gifts beginning with our childhood birthday parties and continuing up to our 20s.
She always had way more style than me when it came to clothes and shoes and accessories.
So much so that I still have many of the gifts she gave me. There’s the velvety multi-colored purse she got at a Chicago boutique probably 17 years ago and the sparkly rose earrings she gave me for my 22nd birthday. Nearly 20-years later, those earrings are still one of the prettiest pieces of jewelry I own.
Jackie just had a way of picking out things that perfectly suited me, even though they slightly pushed me outside my fashion comfort zone. Actually, I think that was her point.
If I were only so gifted, I could have reciprocated. But I always struggled with finding her the perfect gift. Since she knew how to dress and accessorize herself best, I always resorted to giving her her favorite candy, a box of Fannie May Mint Meltaways.
As much as I liked all of the gifts Jackie gave me, they became so much more meaningful when she was states away, serving seven years in the California state penitentiary system, where she moved back and forth between prison and a mental health facility for treatment of schizophrenia.
During those years, there were times when I’d come across the purses sitting in my closet or put on the rose earrings, and just stop and think of how much I missed her and hoped she were back home, free to do something that seems so mundane yet filled with meaning; shopping.
During our last visit, I told Jackie about all the gifts from her I still have. She liked reminiscing about them and a time that seemed so free and fun. She reminded me of a comfy maroon-colored sweater she got me. I loved that sweater. At the end of our visit, we decided that we’d go Christmas shopping together at the children’s clothing store Justice for my daughter and her niece, who are the same age.
But right before I dropped her at home, Jackie said something off subject and out of the blue.
“Hey, do you remember how your mom used to always make popcorn on the stove?,” she asked.
“I do,” I said. “It’s the only way I make popcorn for my kids now.”
A few days later, at Justice, Jackie helped me pick out the perfect gift for my daughter. She swayed me away from a peach sweater I had in hand and instead suggested that I get the blue option to match my daughters’ eyes. We had fun cruising the store and laughing about how different kids’ fashion is today than from when we were kids.
When we got into the car to head home, I said something out of the blue to Jackie.
“Hey, I got you an early Christmas gift,” I said as I handed her a bag.
When she opened the present, she was surprised not to see Mint Meltaways and delighted to see popcorn I made on the stove.
“You made it for me,” she said with a smile.
“I did with lots of butter and salt too,” I responded.
Finally, I think I gave Jackie a gift she’ll always remember.