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“My sister would love that!” I squealed, picking up the large stuffed Great Dane I spotted while shopping with my friends from school. “Oh, and it’s a good price. I’m going to get her that for Christmas.”

I didn’t always get along with my sister, but being away at school for a semester had softened my heart. I couldn’t wait to tell Mom about the gift I’d found.

“That sounds wonderful, honey,” Mom’s voice made me smile. But I noticed it sounded sad. “Lori, I don’t want you to get your hopes too high for Christmas this year. We’re making a lot of sacrifices to send you away to school. And now our washing machine is broken and we don’t know how we’re going to replace it. We’re not going to be able to afford to buy any presents as nice as what you got your sister.”

“That’s fine,” I said. I was glad my parents were willing to make the sacrifice for my education. I was enjoying my studies and making new friends. I had even met a nice old lady who allowed me to do my laundry at her house, using an old-fashioned wringer washer and hanging clothes in the backyard to dry. Because I hadn’t needed to spend money on running the dorm washing machines, I had the laundry money my parents had provided to use as I desired. That’s what I used to buy my sister a stuffed dog, and after my conversation with my mom, I knew I’d need to use it to buy a nice gift for my parents too. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would get them, but I was sure the mall would provide inspiration.

As I passed the bath section in one of the department stores, I thought about how old and ratty my parent’s towels were. They had sent their nicest ones with me when I left for school so I wouldn’t be embarrassed with towels as old as my parents’ marriage.

Choosing some fluffy green towels and matching washcloths, I paid for them with my laundry money. I can’t wait until my parents open these, I thought.

When Christmas break arrived, I walked into my house to see a load of presents under the tree. I looked at Mom quizzically. “Don’t get excited,” she said. “They’re all from the dollar store.”

RELATED: I Hope My Grown Kids Cherish Their Childhood Christmas Memories As Much As I Do

When Christmas morning came, I was surprised by all the fun items my parents had found at the dollar store. I was particularly excited about a magnetic travel Parcheesi game.

But the best part was watching my family open their presents.

“This is like what rich kids have,” my sister exclaimed when she unwrapped the large stuffed dog.

Mom broke down in tears when she opened the box with towels.

“I’m proud of you,” Dad said. “You’re learning the joy of giving.”

RELATED: You Made Me Love Christmas

The next day my parents had some errands to run and asked me to watch the laundry at the laundromat. Having done my own laundry all semester, this was a small way I could help after all the sacrifices my parents had made for me. The laundromat washers would be much easier than the ringer washer I’d been using!

I loaded most of my Christmas gifts into the top of one of the laundry bags to keep me busy while the laundry ran, then carried the bags out to the car.

Arriving at the laundromat, I was eager to prove how responsible I’d become. I dumped each bag into a washing machine, added soap, put quarters in the slots, and started the machines.  With everything running, I sat down to enjoy my Christmas presents. I reached into the laundry bag where I had placed the items. “Oh, no!” I ran to one of the washing machines and opened it. “Oh no!”

I had put all my Christmas presents in the wash, and they were ruined. I picked up the Parcheesi game. The cardboard backing drooped and fell apart.

“I wish we could afford to replace your gifts,” Mom said when she heard the devastating news.

“That’s okay,” I said. “This was still the best Christmas ever. My favorite part was seeing the looks on your faces when you opened your presents—and nothing can take that away.”

RELATED: To the Mom Worrying She’s Not Creating Enough Christmas Magic

Decades have passed since that Christmas when the suds stole my gifts. By now the dollar store gifts would have fallen apart anyway. The towels are older than the ones they’d replaced, and my sister’s stuffed dog has been passed on to a younger child. But there is one thing from that Christmas that remains: the joy I feel every time I think about the happiness I brought to my family. Even time cannot steal that kind of joy.

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So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Lori Futcher

Lori Futcher is a full-time freelancer and mother of two grown children. She is currently working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.

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