Gifts that Last a Lifetime


Something has to be put under the tree. A colorfully wrapped package? A box tied with ribbons that doesn’t scream clothes? Or maybe no box. Maybe a velvety red bow garnishing a pair of shiny new handlebars.

But wise mothers know the secret of gifts that last longer, go deeper and never stop giving.

In my Mommy’s final months, one day loomed large on my five-year-old’s calendar: the first day of school. It was fast approaching; I could hardly wait! Mommy spent so much time at home in bed, though, how would she be able to take me? For it was she who’d proudly escorted my older siblings to kindergarten on their first days.

Jean Hayes Cronin had been a school teacher before she married my father whom she met in college. She stopped working to become a fulltime wife and mom who loved to cook, bake and who patiently let me help her in the kitchen.

Firmly, even defiantly, she promised me she would be there to take me. And she was. I don’t know how she summoned the strength or will but it is my last memory of seeing her outside of the house. Two months later, she was gone.

Mommy gave me many gifts with that last effort: her example of motherhood, her sacrifice, her devotion to education. Though I don’t cook often, I like to believe she knows about my Master’s degree.

*   *   *

When Dad met and married my second mother, we children were dubious. This woman couldn’t even make pancakes!

Pat Somers Cronin was a successful journalist and copy editor when she met and married my father. Becoming instant mother to four bereft children under age eleven took enormous faith on all sides.

I was about eight when I came down with a bad case of the flu. Not only was I ordered to bed while everyone else went off to school, I was left home alone with this veritable stranger. What would we do all day?

She came into my room to check on me and asked if I would like something to read. I nodded, relieved that I wouldn’t have to make conversation. Moments later she came back with a hefty, pink, cloth-covered tome with gold-edged pages, and small print. She said it was a book she’d read when she was about my age. The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston looked quite intimidating. The book showed scant wear and tear because it had been lovingly preserved.

Before long, I was totally hooked. I could hardly stop reading to eat soup or take a nap. Reluctantly I came up for air days later, when, sadly, I’d finished the whole thing! But there was more good news. Mother owned the entire set of five books. She let me read them all.

She’d also been a huge Nancy Drew fan so when I got older, she began giving me those books for birthdays and Christmas. She also introduced me to Vision Books because I was nuts about the saints. These hardcover stories became my favorite gifts: St. Philip Neri—our parish patron saint; St. Francis, Kateri Tekakwitha long before her canonization, St. Thomas More, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. I eagerly added each new gift to my collection.

She not only gave me my first adult-length book to read or tales about holy super stars, she also imparted to me her love of reading and writing.

God does have His sense of humor as He doles out gift after gift after gift. For in time Mother became a sensational cook and baker.

While I became a self-published counselor

The title of my novel is The Gift Counselor. Set in Southern California in the late 1990s, it presents a psycholgist who helps people choose the right gift, her ten year old son who wants a dog she won’t let him have, and the man who enters and changes their lives one December. Winner of 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award, suitable reading for young adults, and book club recommended. The ideal choice for parents, sisters, friends, co-workers and holiday door prizes, this book is available in paperback or kindle format at and most online bookstores. For more information, please visit:


9About the author: Sheila M. Cronin is an author, composer, and portrait artist. She earned her master’s degree at Hahnemann Medical Graduate School (now Drexel) of Philadelphia. Later on, she relocated to Southern California where she was inspired to write her first novel. She now lives in Chicago and is working on the sequel, Best of All Gifts.

Copyright 2015 Sheila M. Cronin.

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