I keep looking at them. They arrived in a 12-by-16-inch manila envelope, addressed to my husband. So, technically they are not mine.
“I hope 73 brings you joy and happiness!” Megan, who is 11 and our son’s oldest child, wrote on a card she made for her grandfather. “For your birthday,” she continued, “I made you 73 paper cranes. Each one represents one year of your life.”
My husband spreads them out on the couch. They are colorful things, green and blue with white stripes, white birds against a dark pink background, plain yellow, blue with pink flowers, hot pink, purple, and green with white daisies.
It isn’t easy to make a crane. You have to cut paper into a square, then fold it in half one way, unfold it, and then fold it in half another way. And that’s only the beginning. You have to fold from corner to corner, left to right, right to left, flatten and crease and flip and do one thing to the bottom flap and something else to the top flap and then turn the whole thing upside down. And repeat. And all this is for just ONE crane.
Megan made 73.
I’ve watched her do this. She furrows her brow as she flips and folds and flattens and creases. She is all concentration. But after? When she’s finished? When she’s transformed an ordinary piece of paper into a colorful, graceful bird? She is all smiles then.
Megan has tried to teach me to make cranes. But I don’t have the patience. Google “How to make a paper crane” and you’ll read that each crane requires 16 exacting steps. Step 4 is the Accordion Fold. Step 7 is the Frog Mouth to Diamond Fold. Step 11 is the Snout Flip Fold. Knowing how much time and precision each crane requires, I gently gather them up and place them in a wicker basket, which I leave on the kitchen table. And every time I walk by, every time I look at them, I am reminded of this child’s love.
That’s the real gift of these cranes. If Megan had sent a birthday card, it would have been enough. If she had called or texted, that would have been enough. A hug would have been enough.
But not for her.
Children are like this. They shower us with love. Once, when I was holed up in my bedroom with a cold, my daughter, who was 5, slipped a note under the door. I HOP YOU FEEL BEDA she wrote under a drawing of herself with a sad face. That’s what kids do. They show us how they feel. They make us cards with their new markers. They draw us pictures of flowers and family. They write I LOVE YOU in big, block letters for the whole world to see. They make us bracelets and necklaces out of paper or yarn or twine or noodles or whatever they can find. They pluck dandelions from the front yard. Sometimes they make us breakfast. And sometimes they cut and fold 73 paper cranes.
On my kitchen table, next to the basket of paper cranes, is a mason jar filled with pithy sayings: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” “Sometimes all it takes is a bowl of ice cream,” is today’s saying.
These sayings were a Christmas gift from my daughter’s children. There are 365 of them.
“One for every day of the year,” Adam and Charlotte told their grandfather and me.
I love these sayings not just because they’re interesting. But because the kids came up with the idea. Because they had to find 365 short sayings that would fit on a piece of paper a half-inch wide. Because they had to type the sayings. And because they had to cut them into tiny fortune cookie strips, fold them, and fit them in a jar.
Soon my grandchildren will stop giving these hand-hewn gifts. Soon they will think that a jar full of sayings, a basket full of paper cranes, and a homemade card are not good enough.
But they are more than good enough. Right now they’re in plain sight for all to see. But eventually the sayings will be read and the cranes will be faded and these gifts, as perfect as they are, will be gone.
What will never be gone is the memory of these children and their perfect love.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.