Last week I had the opportunity to interview Cissy Reynolds, who just celebrated her 100th birthday. .

One detail I loved, but couldn’t seem to work into the story is that every two weeks Reynolds’ daughter, who is herself in her 80s, buys her a bouquet of chrysanthemums. Reynolds told me that she always uses the plant food the flowers come with. While the blooms start small, by the end of the week they are gigantic. During our interview, it became clear that while Reynolds has been isolated during the pandemic, her family cherishes her, and she cherishes them.

Family is such a powerful bond isn’t it? The people who are supposed to have your back no matter what. The people who show up when you’re in trouble and the people who you carve out time for when needed, no questions asked.

Of course, the people who are kin to us are not always family in the blood related/marriage related sense. Sometimes people who show up for us and who we show up for, become family. Sometimes we have a broader community who are family, even if we’re not all tied by blood or by marriage.

I don’t know how I’d have made it through the last year without those connections. Even though my family was far away, they kept in touch. My dad kept mailing me packages of food: fancy brownie mix, goldfish and pistachios sprinkled with chili powder. My parents also kept sending musical instruments that I could use to irritate my neighbors. Not that I was trying to irritate my neighbors, but I imagine sometimes I succeeded in doing so. First were a harmonica and maracas. Finally came the noisiest instrument, a small steel tongue drum.

My best friend Esther, someone who has shown up for me over and over again, kept mailing me surprises. In winter she sent a package of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks, along with a recipe card for mulled wine. Another friend mailed me whole coffee beans. I told Esther how touched I was, but that I wasn’t sure when I’d use them since I don’t own a coffee grinder. A week later, there was a coffee grinder in my mailbox, from Esther.

Gift giving can be such a tangible way to show our love. I’m honestly terrible at it. I tend to give gifts too infrequently and almost always late. They make it on the to-do list, but don’t always make it off of the to-do list. I just bought my brother’s birthday present, even though his birthday is more than a month past. I moved back to New Mexico with Christmas presents for three different people. I wrapped them in December, but never got them to the post office. It’s a character flaw I’m working on. So far the people I love have given me enough grace to never hold my months late gifts against me.

I’m a little better at offering my time, with long phone calls, letters or a walk through the park and a long conversation. Still, after seeing the joy the story of those chrysanthemums brought Cissy Reynolds, I’m taking notes on how to get better at giving gifts. Especially when we cannot physically be with our loved ones, gifts are one way to make sure they do not feel alone. One more way to ensure they know they are so loved and that there is someone in this world looking out for them. Someone looking forward to seeing them in person once again.




Cathy Cook, El Defensor Chieftain