With news of the disaster in Haiti fresh in our minds and stories still filling the Internet, TV and newspapers around the world, people are making donations online to help out. That’s what my husband and I did. Click—we chose a charity. Click—we designated an amount. Click—submit. Donation complete. Almost instantly, we were e-mailed a form letter thanking us for our generosity and providing information for our tax records. It’s 2010 and that’s how most of us give. Will we be remembered for our kindness? Maybe. Maybe not.
Let’s rewind to a story that’s now over seventy years old. During the early days of WWII, the Soviets invaded Poland from the East sixteen days after Nazi Germany invaded from the west. These were bleak, devastating times for my grandmother’s family who chose not to emigrate to the United States from Poland when she did. With seven children to feed herself, Grandma found a way to help her parents and siblings from the comfort of her warm kitchen in America. When she had extra money, she found creative ways to smuggle it into Poland. A spool of thread or an outgrown jacket transported much needed help to her homeland. Taking the empty spool, she would tightly wrap a $20 bill around the smooth wood and then carefully rewind the thread as tightly as possible so as to not raise suspicion at first glance. The picked apart jacket lining would be sewn back together with small delicate stitches after she tucked money into the corners or tacked it to the seams. Packaged together with a note that read, “This thread is of the finest cotton”, or “this jacket will keep you very warm”, her family understood her code. The value of my grandmother’s gift was more than met the eye.
My Grandma died at the crinkly age of ninety-one. We didn’t have much of a relationship because of her broken English and what she called her ‘old country’ ways. But I realize now how some of her choices influenced my life—all because of stories my mother and aunts shared about their mother. This story about her has been passed on to my children to connect them to a woman they don’t have a history with, but also to illuminate the origin of some of our character traits.
True, our Internet donation to Haiti isn’t as dramatic in the telling as the story of my grandmother’s needle and thread, but the results are the same in two distinct ways: Firstly, whether the monetary gifts were sent by computer or smuggled in a hem they provided for the basics every family needs during a time of disaster and stress. Secondly, whether they know it or not, the future generations of both the givers and receivers families are affected by the gifts. Donations help people in need survive and thrive. Stories about the donations inspire future generations to help others, and also keep their ancestors alive through the telling.
Giving gives us a glimpse of Heaven. Stories connect us to our past. Both highlight who we are. Give generously and never stop telling your family stories.