He handed it to me without ceremony—a small leather bag, awl-punched and stitched together by hand. Its flap was held together by a clasp made from a two fishing line sinkers and a piece of woven wax linen. I unwound the wax linen and found inside a tiny wooden heart with his initials on one side, mine on the other. A small hole in the heart had a braided cord of wax linen strung through that was attached to the bag so that the heart could not be lost. He had woven more waxed linen into a neck cord. I was 39 years old when he gave me that incredible thing I never thought I would receive: his heart—as much of it as he could give.
It was the first handmade gift I’d ever received from a man. Inside, over the years, I have put a lock of his hair and a tiny tiny animal of indeterminate species hand-cut out of wood by his youngest son and presented to me. Twenty-eight years later, this bag is all that is left of what was once my union with the man and his eight children from three different women. When he died, we returned him to the inevitable earth and all of the children returned forever to their real mothers.
The bag lies in a box with other relics of our past together: a silver heart brooch, another carved of wood with wings attached and, strangely enough, a miniature computerized hand piano. Years after his death, it struck a chord on its own, just lying on the shelf beside my favorite picture of him. One last dying gasp from the tiny gadget I’d put in his Christmas stocking but then grown tired of hearing him play and so had hidden away, only to enter our bedroom one night to find him playing it under the covers like a guilty pleasure hidden from the adults, although he was already in his sixties.
For our first Christmas, he gave me a large sculpture that was also a musical instrument—three hand-raised copper gongs in the shape of breasts suspended over a wooden keyboard played by rawhide mallets, the gongs suspended from the long horizontal neck of a copper wind instrument with two necks and two mouthpieces, so two notes could be blown at once. When he died, it was the sculpture chosen by his youngest daughter, and I let her take it. Now, the remnants I have of him are only the leftovers that remained after eight children had chosen. I was moving to another country and could not hold onto everything he’d given.
I moved away from most of those things we had collected over the years, but somewhere hidden away in the thousand objects in my studio is the small leather bag and the tiny hand piano, now forever mute, his father’s pocket watch, his biking medals and the other assorted pieces of his life that will one day wind up in a secondhand store in Mexico. All of our gifts finally melding with the parts of all those billions of other lives that strike their brief chord before blending, inevitably, back into the cacophony of the universe.
The Prompt: What’s the best present you’ve ever received that was handmade by the giver, not store-bought? Tell us what made it so special.