My Great-Aunt’s Last Gifts

In the early-morning hours of December 14, the Extra-Ordinary Birthdays headquarters in College Park, Maryland, became collateral damage when an arsonist targeted a neighboring business.

The collaborative workshop, think-space, and gift-and-supply repository that served genesis to all of the custom birthday celebrations for the homeless children and families EOB serves was now rubble and ruin.

Five days later, on December 19, my Great-Aunt Christina McLean died in Massachusetts. She was 89 and in failing health, but continued — until the end — to reach for more minutes and hours with her children and grandchildren, because she adored them.

Christina celebrating her 88th birthday with a Scottish bagpipe performance in our West Bridgewater, Massachusetts home.

Christina adored all children. On top of adopting two of her own, she kept a famously “always open” front door through which droves of neighborhood kids poured, some of whom stayed and ultimately became family.

The morning after her death, Christina’s daughter-in-law Leandra sent my mother a text-message as she began to set funeral arrangements.

“Could you send me the contact info for Extra-Ordinary Birthdays? We’re going to use that and the church for her places to donate. We had decided that was going to be Christmas gifts for your family. We’d just had a long conversation about Amanda and EOB on Monday — she loved the idea of making a donation to them for Christmas.”

They had talked about the horror of the fire, too, Leandra said.

Yet, today, on this last day of 2018, donations made in Christina’s memory are amid more than $15,000 raised by supporters since our EOB office was destroyed earlier this month.

I’m utterly overwhelmed by the unending generosity this small-but-mighty organization has received from my family, friends, and colleagues — even strangers. “Thank-you” seems too weak a phrase.

Somehow, there can be goodness in endings and ashes. Christina, with these final gifts, has left the door open for more children — even in her absence.

I like quick wit, short stories, and old movies.

I like quick wit, short stories, and old movies.