Danny Heitman’s “At Random” column for Sunday, May 12, 2013

BY DANNY HEITMAN

As another Mother’s Day arrives today, many of us will be focused on the gifts we’re giving to the special women who’ve nurtured us through the years. But in a new book I’ve been reading, “What My Mother Gave Me,” three dozen women reflect on the best gifts that their mothers gave to them.

Author Joyce Carol Oates writes in celebration of the quilt she got from her mother — a gift that continued to offer comfort long after her mother was gone. After Oates’ first husband died suddenly in 2008, she was often too sad to get out of bed. Her mother, who had died years earlier, wasn’t physically present to comfort a daughter who needed relief from deep grief. But the quilt was still there, and resting beneath it, Oates felt her mother’s love.

“The bed became my haven, my refuge, my sanctuary, my nest — with my mother’s quilt as a sign of how love endures in the most elemental and comforting of ways,” Oates recalls.

Mary Gordon, a native New Yorker, writes of the day her mother decided to book tickets for a boat ride around Manhattan Island, taking the day off to provide her daughter with a small adventure. “She was giving me the gift of the larger world,” Gordon tells readers. “And the belief that it was something that could be reached.”

The Rev. Lillian Daniel has a broken vase once owned by her mother. As a toddler, Daniel had accidentally cracked the vase while rushing into the arms of her father, who had long been away in Vietnam. Daniel’s mother glued the vase back together and kept it as a lively reminder of a special moment in the family’s life.

“It remains a symbol to me of why so many people loved her, and mourned her passing,” Daniel writes of her mother. “There was no situation she didn’t think could be repaired and redeemed . . .”

Not all of the gifts mentioned in the book are physical objects. Sometimes, as some of the contributors conclude, a mother’s best gifts are more intangible.

You can’t read “What My Mother Gave Me” without thinking of the best gift your own mother has passed along.

I suppose the best thing my mother gave me was an audience. She worked long hours in a florist shop a few feet from our house, but the arrangement allowed her to see me each afternoon when I returned from school. She was there, in the kitchen, waiting to hear the story of my day.

Her habit of listening made me think that the story of my life was interesting. I now know of the many days when only a mother’s love could have found anything noteworthy in the tender trials and small victories of childhood recited across a glass of milk and peanut butter sandwich.

In the hours of telling and the hours of listening, my mother was helping me to find the voice I’d later need to write not only of myself, but of others.

Mama died five years ago, a week before Mother’s Day. But every time I send a little story into the world, I remember the first woman who gave me faith that I had something to say.