We try to pick the perfect gift. It is a hard task, and often not solved to our satisfaction. But the perfect gift is always there, sometimes just not found in a box with ribbon.
Front porch lights and begonias remind me of Martin Nordberg. Yellow begonias. He had a sunny yellow dining room because he liked a bright sunny room. He grew begonias like I had never seen before. In fact, I do not think that I even knew what a begonia was before I met Martin.
Martin E. Nordberg, PhD had been a research scientist. Educated
at Cal Tech, he held numerous patents for the Corning Glass Works, now
Corning, Inc. Mike got his first job out of grad school in Corning, NY.
We moved to 133 East Fourth St. and Martin resided alone in the big
yellow house at 134 East Fourth St. He was well into his 80s when we
arrived. Martin was thrilled at seeing our porch lights when we moved
in, and he promptly shuffled across Fourth Street to tell us so.
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Despite his failing eyesight, he still loved to putter. He caned four chairs for me. He and Mike made the cradle that my three children slept in. The cradle was started when I was in my seventh month and he was adamant that it would be waiting for Ted when he came home from the hospital. It was, still tacky from the final coat of varnish, but beautifully made…his hands, Mike’s eyes.
Things were starting to get tougher for Martin as his health turned. One day, Martin asked if there was anything in his house I might want. It felt too awkward to suggest anything, so I politely changed the subject. Soon he started asking me if I liked particular things … a picture, an end table, a lamp. He asked if I liked a carved mirror in his hallway. I said, “Of course, it is gorgeous.” He said, “Then it is yours, have Mike come get it this weekend.”
But Martin left the next day for the nursing home.
Martin’s house was dark now, just as ours had been five years prior. Oh how I now understood what our porch light meant to him. We visited him often as he steadily degraded. His eyes first, then his body, but not his soul.
After he died, his son asked me if there was anything we would like. Though I hesitated to ask for the mirror, I did. His son brought it right over. He also brought tools that were used to make the cradle. His daughter, Carol, gave me a quilt that his aunt and grandmother had made. She said that I would appreciate their handiwork more than most, and she is right. The quilt is a Roman Cross in white and yellow, like the begonias and the dining room.
Two years later our third child was born. We named him Martin. Dr. Nordberg is still with us.
I look in Martin’s mirror everyday and think of him. I can almost see his reflection behind me. He found a way to live on, and to pass his wit, wisdom, patience and love to a family related only by chance. He may not have thought of these attributes as gifts, but I did. I think they were his greatest assets. Though Martin blessed us with many tangible gifts, the best gifts were the ones that did not come in a box. No ribbon necessary.