April McGowan

Short: The Gift

Alexia refused gifts and thought family events were like emergency-room visits, painful and preventable.  As another guest strolled by and squeezed her arthritic hand in greeting, she envisioned herself out in the garden of her old home, the aroma of jasmine wafting about her on the warm spring day.  Instead, she sat in the over-sanitized dining hall of an assisted living home, barraged by well meaning, but quite annoying friends and family.

She turned ninety-five today.  The day marked an anniversary of another kind as well, it was three years ago today they moved her into this place.  She’d wanted to die in her own home, but her family thought otherwise.  They wanted her to die amongst the care of strangers, those paid to pretend they wanted her there.

With a sigh, she leaned back and put the most recent unwanted gift on the table nearest her.  Her family, she supposed, meant well in their own way.  She glanced out the window onto a concrete courtyard framed by aging, brown arborvitae and dying irises.

“Grandma?”  A voice boomed near her head and she started in her chair.  “Sorry there, Grandma.  There’s a visitor here for you.”

She stared at the balding attendant dressed in yellow scrubs with a puppy-dog print stretching over his expansive stomach.

“I never gave you permission to call me Grandma or anything else, for that matter.”  She gave him her best scowl, a look that would have brought him to his knees in her younger days as an English teacher.

“She’s a feisty one.”  He spoke to a young woman—well she looked young to Alexia, but everyone did.  Alexia noted that she was quite attractive as she watched her pull up a metal folding chair.

“I didn’t know it was your birthday.”  Her confession came in hushed tones as she looked around the room at the balloons and guests milling about, speaking overly loud to the other aged attendees.

“Then what in the world are you doing here?”  Alexia looked at the woman again, and couldn’t place her.  That was nothing new today.  Relatives came out of the woodwork for this birthday.  Many of them told her where they lived and what their financial status was, making her wonder if they were putting in a last-ditch effort to be added to her substantial will.

“Well, I wanted to see you.  My mother told me so much about you, that when I moved to the area, I thought I should stop in and say hi.”

“Who is your mother?”

“Lilly Sampson.”

The name floated through her memory until it found purchase.  “Lilly.  How is she?  She was my best student!”

“She’s passed away.  But she spoke of you so often, I felt I knew you.”

Dear Lilly, gone.  She’d written so many wonderful articles and even a few books over the years.    “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“It was recent.  Cancer.”

“It’s taken many of my friends and family.”

“Mine too.”

“So, what do you do?”

“I write.  Novels.  I’m not published yet, but I’m working on it every day.”

“Good.  Don’t give up.  If it’s your gift, then that’s what you should do.  I’d love to read your work.  Although, these days, with my old eyes, you’d probably have to read it to me.”  Alexia knew in this busy day and age, young people had too few moments to stop in and visit, let alone read to an old woman.

“Would you really?  That’d mean so much to me.  Mom said you were the best editor she ever had.”

“Oh, that’s lovely.”  She reached over and took the young woman’s hand in hers.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a present with me.”

“Don’t worry about it.”  Alexia glanced at the growing stack of gifts and felt relief.  What would an old woman sharing a two hundred square foot room do with all those things anyway?  Most would probably be knickknacks soon knocked off her solitary bookcase by the inept staff and swept into the dustbin.  She looked at her new friend as she moved to leave.

“Will you be back soon?  With your novel?”  She watched the woman’s eyes sparkle.

“Yes.  How about tomorrow?”


She leaned down and gave Alexia a kiss on her cheek.  It was the most sincere thing she’d received all day.

“You haven’t told me your name.”

“Alex.  Mom named me after you.”  Unshed tears filled her eyes as she waved goodbye and left.

What a lovely gift. 


Copyright by April McGowan 2010

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Why I Chose American Heritage Girls

At this time of year there seems to be a huge ramping up of all our obligations.  It’s especially true of parents with older children—there’s always somewhere to go, or someplace to be.  I have many friends who are reevaluating their schedules for next year now.  My advice is to wait until the fire cools before cutting and running!  For some reason, American Heritage Girls often shows up on that list of obligations, along with other valuable programs.  But, I disagree—I don’t think of AHG as an obligation, I think of it as a God given opportunity.

A few years ago, when my daughter was in 2nd grade, I felt she had a lack of good close friends.  She had one or two, but she’s a very social girl, and I wanted to give her another opportunity to meet girls of like-minded faith (Christian), and get her plugged into a good program that offered Christ-like values and encouraged service.  That’s when we heard about our church sponsoring an American Heritage Girls troop.  I’d never heard of them before, so I did some research.  They not only taught life skills, they focused those skills with Christian guidelines.  I liked that. They taught that family is a God given blessing—not something to try to “do” in-between career choices.  They made service to the community a reality, not just an ideal.  They encouraged the girls to make life long friendships, in a deep and lasting way.  Their oath: “I promise to love God, cherish my family, honor my country and serve in my community,” is real and lasting and meaningful.

As I got to know the program better, through our involvement, I noticed too that the leaders weren’t committed just for their own daughter’s sake, but had a heart concern for the well being of not just the girls, but for each of their families as well.  I noticed that the program isn’t only a program, it’s a ministry.

By our second year, I’d moved into a leadership position.  Albeit, my personal gifts don’t involve teaching children (unless they are my own), but that didn’t mean I couldn’t help.  I found a position I enjoy—registrar.  It’s a good fit for me and my busy schedule, but also helps our troop in a big way several times a year.  Every year I try to encourage others to find their niche at AHG and help, because, again, it’s not just a program, it’s a ministry.

I’ve seen my daughter and my family blessed by our involvement with AHG.  When we’ve gone through trials, other leaders have stood by me and prayed with me.  And I’ve had the privilege to do that for others well.  Both my daughter and I have made some wonderful friendships there—friendships that will grow and stand the test of time because they are seeded in faith.

While there are other things we CAN commit to throughout the year, we’ve chosen to stand by our commitment to American Heritage Girls, and say “no” to other opportunities because of the value AHG is to our family, and because we believe in their mission to grow up women of integrity.  In this day and age, when integrity is lacking in every area of our American lives, I find that a true blessing.

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Ener-G Foods (my new ally)

We had an ALMOST bad experience the other day.  That’s not proper English, is it?  But, that best describes it!  We have used many Ener-G brand products over the past year.  Breads, egg replacer (I prefer flax meal now–seems to make things rise better), crackers, pretzels (yummy sesame seed covered ones) and the like.  We can only get their brand through our local grocer, and the items they carry are all gluten, dairy and egg free.  So, when I glimpsed their brand on Amazon, and saw the word “donuts” I didn’t hesitate to order.  I’m not a baker (except cookies)–and when I fry foods, they often come out oily, so I avoid frying.  Anyway, my son has asked many times if gluten free, egg free, dairy free donuts exist, and until that day, I didn’t think so.  So I ordered a case immediately.  They arrived to much fan fare, and I set about opening a pack and trying one.  My husband tried one too, and said, “I taste lemon.”  So I read the ingredients, and didn’t see lemon, but DID see egg whites.    WHAT???

My son took this disappointment better than I did, but he was still sad.  I felt badly because my mistake of not reading ingredients  had nearly caused a catastrophe, and I felt I had let him down.  You hate to see your kids disappointed by something they had their hopes set high on.  Needless to say, I contacted the company and suggested they change their label, or add the word “EGG” in the title of the product, or main description.  Or at least BOLD it on the package.  When our local store carries about 20 different items by this company and NONE of them have egg or dairy, it’s a shock, let me tell you.    I gave our case of donuts to a friend whose daughter is allergic to wheat, she was very happy,  and continued to feel badly until I got my response from Ener-G.

They were very apologetic, and assured me they’d take my concerns seriously.  Their representative explained they used eggs in very few products, and they were trying to phase them out with flax meal.  Some customers didn’t like that they were phasing eggs out–it was changing the flavor of their favorite foods in a way they didn’t like, but Ener-G feels strongly about eliminating the top 8 food allergens.  They were very sympathetic too, which I didn’t expect.  Often times when I write to a company and explain how hard it is to find safe foods, they leave me with the feeling like, “well, that’s your problem, we need to make a profit.”  Ener-G is NOT that kind of company.  They seem to have an empathy for what it is like to have to consider every food item that goes into your child’s mouth as a potential hazard;  To understand that eating food isn’t something that everyone can take for granted.    And let me tell you, when a company is empathetic and listens and tries their best to help–they gain loyal customers FAST.

Ener-g is sending my son a complementary box of brownies–gluten, egg and diary free–and for that, I’m very thankful.  If you would like to contact them and support them in their complete elimination of egg and dairy from their line, you can reach them here.

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