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The Gift

A Life Well Lived

By Heather DonaldPublished 2 years ago 10 min read

The first time Sadie met her Auntie Mae she was 6 years old and painfully shy. Her mother had died tragically in a car accident, leaving her alone in the world. She was placed in foster care while they tried to locate her family, her foster Mom was a kind woman who always looked at Sadie with pity. After a few weeks they found an aunt of her Mothers who did not hesitate to agree to take in Sadie, despite not knowing she existed until then. Her foster mother took extra care in dressing Sadie to meet her family. Her soft, baby-blonde hair was carefully brushed into perfect golden ringlets. The lacy pink ribbons pinned in her hair perfectly matched the frilly pink dress, pink patent shoes and pale pink tights. She looked just like a pretty little doll, with sad eyes.

Auntie Mae struck quite an imposing figure that first meeting. She was so tall; her expression was lofty and serious with a slight frown and pursed mouth. Her perfectly tailored suit was a serious shade of grey paired with tall black boots and a black overcoat. She had perfectly manicured long grey nails, and her hand clutched a shiny ebony cane with a Raven’s head carved into the grip. The girl peered from behind the safety of her foster mother's legs, her large cornflower eyes wide, when Auntie turned and fixed her squarely with her warm, and loving grey gaze. She disentangled from her foster mother’s limbs and stepped towards Auntie, who held out her hand, smiling encouragement. She looked back at her anxious foster mother, took a deep breath, and managed a weak smile. She quickly kissed the kind woman’s cheek and gave her a reassuring hug. She turned back and walked away holding the hand of this strange and intriguing woman, feeling surprisingly safe and a tiny ray of hope shone through the darkness in her heart.

“Miss Donald?” The friendly receptionist distracted Sadie from her reverie with a sympathetic and apologetic smile, gesturing to the office and saying “Mr. Talifer will see you now”. She went into the lawyer’s office, conflicted by the different emotions she had all at once. She was devastated over Auntie Mae’s death, although she lived a wonderful long and interesting life, a life she shared with Sadie with generosity and wild abandon, a life that was very well lived indeed. She was also busting with curiosity and a little jittery with nerves, she could hear her Auntie saying in a conspiratorial whisper, ‘oooh I can feel it crackle in the air like electricity, something is most certainly afoot!’ She pursed her lips in a tight smile, and she politely shook the proffered hand of the curious looking gentleman.

“How marvellous to make your acquaintance young lady, although I dare say I feel like I’ve known you most of your life.” He gestured for her to take a seat in a leather chair across from his position behind a mahogany desk, neatly arrayed with stacks of files and papers. Sadie politely replied with a kind smile, “I’m afraid kind sir, that I cannot say the same” as she took in the visage of, “Mr. Edison Talifer, Esquire. I am, was...’ at this he looked down for a brief moment, collecting himself before carrying on, “your Aunt Mae’s lawyer, confidant and most excellent friend. She had very specific instructions for you upon her passing, and it is my intention to honour her requests precisely.” He was quite old she realized upon closer inspection, which was belied by his obvious good health, good humour and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, even through his unshed tears. He had a spectacular moustache, thick and silver and turned up jauntily at the ends, hugging his deep dimples when he smiled. She could tell he was just Auntie’s sort, which made him her sort. She smiled warmly back, and said, “of course, I would expect nothing less.” He slid a small polished wooden box across to her, but kept his hand on it when she reached for it. “You’re to open this in privacy, not here, at home. There’s more, she left you everything; the Guild house and property, the apartment in Paris, her jewelry and art and cars, everything. The property taxes, utility payments - everything is being managed in trust and you will receive a monthly allowance. You are to receive this cheque, he handed her an envelope, “in the amount $20,000 for any other immediate requirements.” Sadie narrowed her gaze, and raised an eyebrow in an obvious request for clarity. “That is all I can tell you at this time my dear, here is my card, feel free to call if you ever need anything. I loved your Auntie dearly; she was accepting of everyone as long as they were kind and at least tried to be interesting. She helped so many people and never wanted anything in return, she was kind. She raised you to carry on her legacy of kindness and I know you will continue to make her proud.” 

Sadie rushed home, vibrating with nervous excitement.  She’d always known she was inheriting everything, her Aunt had been very forthcoming about that, and she regarded the extravagant inheritance with gratitude and reverence in equal measure. In recent years, she had recorded her Aunt’s instructions to gift certain special items; art, jewelry, mementos and curios, along with long, handwritten letters from Auntie to various special friends upon her passing. She looked forward to visiting each of them to reminisce and hear all the old stories she grew up hearing at weekly high tea in the Guild Hotel’s formal dining room. Oh! how she lived for Saturday High Tea! Surrounded by artists, some in their best finery, others in suspenders, still covered in paint - such a motley crew! Smelling of patchouli, cigarettes, wine and varnish, it was intoxicating. They talked excitedly of all the best gossip, dramatically dropping to a whisper for the juiciest bits. They argued world politics and solved all the world’s problems in that room. The bright dining room was resplendent with floral wall paper, glittering chandeliers, delicate rose patterned China cups and plates, serving tiny cucumber sandwiches, macrons and caviar on oat cakes. The Guild Hotel building was magnificent, with fancy gingerbread trim adorning the facade and turrets with stark, pointy black iron railings. The dining room was all glass windows facing the gardens. The gardens were perfectly manicured and all about the winding and abundant grounds was a veritable treasure trove of art. Art of all kinds! Sculpture, fantastical topiaries, woodwork, paintings, carvings, glassworks. So many artists were living and creating in love and acceptance and admiration. A wonderful motley assortment of free thinkers, free to love how and whom they wanted, free to create without boundaries or limitations. The Guild Hotel was long ago donated by Aunt Mae to the Guild Art Foundation in order to ensure the preservation of the historical art created on these grounds. Now the main house and grounds belonged to Sadie, it was the only home she could remember.

She sat in the living room, with a warm fire crackling softly beside her, holding the long slender box on her lap, staring at it. The word ‘Remember’ was etched in cursive on a gold plate inlaid into the simply carved box. She smiled softly and opened the box, nestled inside the pink satin lining was an ornate key. She slowly removed the key, examining it closely. There was a number stamped in the top section, H21, it was heavy, brass, quite old and very beautiful. She took out a slip of paper that was tucked under the key, it said “43.6448° N, 79.3986° W”, it was coordinates! From their many adventures together, Sadie was well versed in Map Reading and Land Navigation. She first learned using maps and a compass on hikes through the cities, forests and villages they visited together, eventually, thanks to advances in technology, they got to utilize GPS. Sadie punched the latitude and longitude into her GPS to determine the location to find it was a very familiar place, almost as familiar as home. 

‘Moishe!’ She exclaimed as she threw herself in the welcoming arms of her old friend. “How’s the animal murdering business?” She said with disdain for the lucrative fur business his family had run for generations. “Shaddup, ya pain in the ass kid” he said affectionately, holding her at arm’s length and taking her all in, glad to see her, but with sadness in his eyes. They all missed Mae. Sadie held up the key and Moishe smiled, and told her to follow him. They went into the factory, through the cold storage closets, through a large steel door and into a room Sadie had never seen before, there were so many weird secrets Auntie Mae had kept from her she realized. There were rows of old bank deposit boxes lining the walls. “We never trusted the banks after the war, so we made our own safekeeping. I’ll leave you to open this in private kid”, he set a metal box in front of her on a table and left. The box had H21 carved into a brass plate on the front, she slid the key in and opened the box. Inside was a black leather-bound notebook, with many papers and markers sticking out from all the open sides, seemingly ready to burst the clasp it was so full. Sadie stared at it, as tears welled up her eyes. Auntie Mae’s journal was an extension of her Aunt, she always kept it with her. She reverently lifted the journal from the safekeeping of the box and clutched it to her chest, she made her excuses to Moishe and returned home with her special treasure.

Back home, comfortable in her bed, Sadie placed the book down on the comforter, released the clip and gently opened the black moleskin cover. There was a note on the inside cover that said, “We live forever in the tales people tell of us after our passing, this is our legacy so choose to live a life of kindness and joy – both for yourself and most importantly, for others. Always remember and I’ll always be with you. Love Auntie Mae” Sadie slowly turned the pages of the notebook, it was filled with funny notes and thoughts, sketches of flowers, landscapes, birds and sketches of Sadie over the years, capturing just how her Aunt saw her. There were notes commemorating all of Sadie’s accomplishments with dates and photos and little keepsakes. Highlights of every adventure, and all the names of all the interesting people they had met. This was the true treasure, the real inheritance – the gift of remembering a life well lived and a guide to living life to the fullest.

Sadie slowly registered that the page she’d been staring at had subtly changed from creamy antique linen to a glowing golden hue, what she had come for was here, right on schedule. She gazed to her right to witness the sky ablaze with the glory of nature, slipping the leather-bound book safely in her pocket and sighing in satisfaction and awe. The glorious display turned from a fiery inferno to an intense pink and purple, finally fading to the last golden gasp of the day. She allowed self-awareness to return, the sounds of a city pulsing all around her, and quickly removed herself from what soon would be a crowded streetcar stop.  She briefly wondered who would find the envelope taped to the bench she had been sitting on, the envelope with 200 crisp new $100 dollar bills and a little note that said ‘live a life of kindness and joy – both for yourself and most importantly, for others.’ She softly smiled as she slid into the quiet comfort of her car and the driver pulled away.

extended family

About the Creator

Heather Donald

I believe in love & kindness, that we should embrace joy, sing, dance & be silly! I am a survivor, damaged but not broken. I have a lot of love to give, free of judgment and given freely because I believe love can heal the world. 💕

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