05/07/2013 01:57 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

She Saved Them All: A Mother's Day Remembrance

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We didn't know she had saved them. Homemade Mother's Day cards, poems celebrating the first day of spring, my letters home from college, letters to Santa. My mother had saved every card and letter, every drawing my sister and I had given her. She had even dried and pressed our gifts of wildflowers. She had kept everything. They were bound in pink satin and red lace, stored in her bedroom bureau's bottom drawer, to the left of her neatly folded sweaters.

We found them a few weeks after my dad died -- suddenly. As had my mother, ten years before. We were cleaning our childhood home, sorting out what to keep and what to donate. A task we had consciously been avoiding. We began in my parents' bedroom. My dad had kept their bedroom the same since my mother's death. Never rearranging or removing any of her belongings. Half-empty perfume bottles on her dresser, Sunday church clothes on her side of the closet. Her life, their life together, frozen in time.

We sat on the bedroom floor, untied the red lace ribbon and began tearfully recalling my mother's responses to each of our discoveries. I was 30, married, the father of a 2-year-old girl with another on the way. My sister was 22. But in that moment, we were once again our mother's little kids.

She had glowed as she slowly read each (often misspelled) card. Smiled broadly with anticipatory, girlish delight, eyes closed and arms extended as we presented her with our annual "surprise" -- a May Day bouquet of freshly picked, multi-colored violets.

This was not the first discovery of my mother's hidden treasures. As a young child playing alone in our attic, I had come upon a shiny, wooden box in a closet, containing love letters, cards and postcards from my father, sent from his World War II, overseas' battlefields. I had known my father as a tall, powerful man, not given to outward displays of affection or romantic written verse. My mother had known otherwise and had preserved her sweetheart's words of love and devotion, just as she had saved ours.

Mothers often receive special gifts from their children -- handmade birthday cards and holiday presents, Mother's Day breakfasts in bed, spontaneous, full-body hugs. Such cherished gifts cannot all be secured with red lace or stored in wooden boxes. But they can all be joyfully received and celebrated. And sometimes, their memories come to you by surprise, even as grief and longing drop you to your knees.

Have you ever discovered someone's hidden treasures? Might your children someday discover yours? Sit down for a while. Share your stories. I'll be waiting for you on the stoop.