When I think of good gifts, I often think of the story of Trudy's best gift.
Part of the reason the story of Trudy's gift has stayed with me for so long, and why it's always waiting in the front of my memory, is the pure loveliness, and thoughtfulness of the gift. And part of the reason is, as so often happens, due to the circumstances of my hearing the story.
It was the summer I spent in Scotland. In many ways, and for many reasons, that was not a good summer. It was the summer when I learned the hard lesson that family may be obligated to love you, but that doesn't mean that they will like you. Or you, them. It was a very lonely, isolating summer, and so very far from home. I don't regret that summer - life lessons, part of me and all that - but it was hard. Even the weather was the worst anyone could remember (yes, even for Scotland). It was dreich and dreary, and wet and cold and miserable, and the gloom took the place of the sunshine deep inside, making the white nights longer, and the lonely evenings that much more grim.
There were some exceptions - wonderful exceptions - to the gloom. And I came away with stories to laugh about, and to remember some sunshine. One of the brightest spots of that summer was the week I spent on a Haggis Backpackers tour. It was only a few days - the five day tour, I think it was, and many of the places we went, I'd been before. But never like that - with a driver and guide who was so full of enthusiasm and humour, and a group of people who were genuinely there only to have a good time. It was a diverse group.
It's funny the things you remember. We were in a little yellow bus whose name was Daphne. There were 23 people in my group. I was the only Canadian. There were 4 or 5 Kiwis, a few English people, 5 or 6 people from Singapore, one American (Tristan, from Hawaii) and Trudy, who was from Zimbabwe. We became friends on the trip, sitting together on the bus most days, and sharing toothpaste and teaspoons. We had a similar sense of humour, and she helped me to be more open and willing to be silly in the name of fun.
It was alongside Trudy and Tristan that I held my head in the Sligachen River for ten seconds in hopes of gaining the prolonged youth and beauty promised in a fairy tale of long ago. And it was with them that I wandered among the bleak hillocks and markers of Culloden. Trudy told stories of her manservant and her glass collection, and I shared the wonder that is Home for a Rest by Spirit of the West. I educated Trudy in Canadian beverages, too, when she argued that Canada Dry wasn't a ginger ale (it's the champagne of ginger ales!). She scoffed when we saw "Victoria Falls" and we all laughed together when one of the Kiwis was scolded by his girlfriend for 'staying up late with the sheilas' one night in a hostel in Drumnadrochit. We all climbed over the barrier into the grounds of Urquhart castle late one night, and wandered the eerily lit ruins on the shore of Loch Ness, serenaded by a mysterious, disappearing stranger playing a flute in the shadows.
And all twenty three of us crowded down into one tiny, dark stone dungeon that was quite literally no more than a hole in the stony ground of the Isle of Skye, and heard the story of Hugh the pirate, who was locked in that small space and left to die, with a plate of salted beef and an empty water pitcher.
It was just the kind of friendship and camaraderie that develops only on a five day backpacking trip through Scotland. No one stayed in touch, but I know that we all remember.
And one day we were talking about gifts. And Trudy told her story about her best gift. She had a copy of Jane Eyre that she had treasured for as long as she could remember. It was a well-loved book, with tattered pages covered with small notes and thoughts, and was very dear to her. And one day, her friend (a boy-friend, and I often wonder whether that hyphen disappeared later) snuck the book out of her room.
She didn't notice, and knew nothing of the pilfering, until her birthday some days or weeks later, when she was presented with a copy of Jane Eyre. It was in a lovely binding, and her name was embossed in gold in the corner of the leather cover. She was pleased to get the book, but it would never replace her beloved old friend. And then she opened it, and saw the same old, tattered and worn pages, and her little notes and dreams.
What a wonderful gift - for someone to know your heart well enough to take your thoughts and dreams and hopes and have them carefully bound and restored, so that you can continue to carry them through life without fear of losing a single page.