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The Gift
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The IT woman assigned to my library automation project was meeting with me in my office in mid-morning. We were thinking through a logic problem in our data conversion and our heads were wrestling with the coding of one line in our cataloging records. We had some non-standard data we’d customized when creating catalog cards manually. In converting our data, we could match against a national database, but would lose our customized data. The politics of this were significant as our university president wanted that customized data to remain intact. No matter that the data wasn’t that significant in itself or that the decision would incur expenses we didn’t have funding to implement, he was the president. We also had a deadline, needing to make the decision as soon as possible.

While brainstorming about options, a knock came on the door and I opened it to find a florist with a long white box. I explained that he was probably in the wrong place, but he showed me my name and, mystified, I took the box. There was no card, either outside or inside the box. There were one dozen lavender roses. It wasn’t my birthday, Valentine’s Day, our anniversary. It was an ordinary day. Of course, the arrival of the roses derailed the complicated pieces in our respective heads and we agreed to think about the problem and meet again the following day.

I scoured the cupboards in the library break room and found a vase for the roses. The color was unusual. I’d never seen lavender roses before and didn’t even know they existed. All afternoon, my concentration was broken by the mystery of who’d sent them. And why.

That evening, when both my husband and I got home (late), had fed our small son, and had put him to bed at 7:30 p.m., I told him about the roses. “I’m glad you liked them. I thought the color was unusual.”

“You sent them?” My voice rose in amazement. “Thank you so much.”

It was out-of-character for him to do such a thing. He barely remembered his own birthday, let alone anyone else’s or the date of our anniversary, and we weren’t a family that fussed about commercial events like Valentine’s Day.

Now that our son was in bed, we got busy. I first called my parents, something I’d taken to doing every night. Neither was well and both my mother and I knew my father was not long for this world. Meanwhile, my husband got busy with his own big project, an architectural rebuild of the labs in the hospital where he worked. He worked there all his life and, as time went by, he was saddled with more and more to do. He’d been hired to run the chemistry lab, but he also dealt with hazardous waste, supervising more and more of the other labs, and coping with any big project that came along. This one, bigger than most, was just one in a long succession.

I also got busy. Automating a medium-sized library with all the retrospective conversion of data was a huge project in the mid-eighties, requiring the upgrading of large computers, upgrading electrical and cable trays and wiring and room temperature/humidity controls, reconciling various manual records for data (we had 21 such sets of records), dealing with vendors, answering questions about the RFP, and evaluating various library automation systems, and, and, and.

But the roses stuck in my head. They came back to me at odd times. The unusual gift, special because it wasn’t a birthday or an anniversary or specific occasion. He’d seen the roses, he’d seen something special in the color, he knew what I was coping with at the time, and he bought them, perhaps on a whim, perhaps on purpose. It didn’t matter. It was a gift of love, unbounded by obligation.

In February, 1986, I went on six site visits for the various library automation systems we were considering. Three systems, two visits each (to different sites), in appalling weather. And I buried my father. Through it all, the thought of those roses kept me going. Both my parents are long gone now, as is my husband. But I remember those roses still, with their gift of love and joy.

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