I grew up in Keswick, Ontario, where winters were a big deal.
It never mattered how far below zero that mercury plunged. My friends and I sledded long into the freezing evenings. We built snow forts. We skated for hours on my family’s backyard rink.
We often didn’t realize how chilled we were, until we came inside. It would sometimes take 15 minutes for my big toe to thaw out. I remember sitting over the heating vent, using my shirt as a tent to catch the warm air.
Life as the youngest
As the youngest of five children, the idea of new winter clothing was wishful thinking. Three older brothers meant lots of hand-me-downs.
Winter coats sometimes fit me – but often the zipper was finicky, or the cuffs had lost their elasticity, causing cold air to blow up my arms.
It was all part of being the youngest.
But then one Christmas, the year I was 12, I unwrapped a gift that changed my outlook on life. It was a new winter coat. And for once, one that didn’t come with the phrase “you’ll grow into it.”
Left: Dan in Keswick, age 12, proud of his new red coat. Right: Modern-day Dan trying on the coat once more. Photos: Maureen and Sofie Wilcox
It was bright red on the outside, fleecy blue on the inside. It had a strong silver zipper, a string to pull tight around the head and snug elastic at the wrists. It would keep me very warm that winter.
“This coat is great!” I exclaimed. The jacket was of such quality, I presumed my parents had bought it new for once – spending quite a bit of money. I was wrong. The gift was even better than that.
“Your Mom made it,” said my Dad.
Mom sat quietly by, a gentle smile on her face. I couldn’t believe my ears. I went over and hugged her tightly. I told her she had done an incredible job.
Mom had hunched over her sewing machine, quietly creating my coat. She did it late at night in her little sewing room. It had taken her weeks. I had never caught so much as a flash of red fabric. It was a complete and total surprise.
Perhaps that was something I needed, just as much as a winter coat. My mom had noticed that I rarely had anything new. That my brothers’ coats didn’t always fit right.
And that mattered to her.
Dan and his mom Maureen Wilcox. Photo courtesy of Dan Wilcox.
Over the years, our parents’ frugality sometimes left us kids rolling our eyes. The last bits of soap would be melted together into one. We took our lunches in milk bags – the clear plastic ones that held the actual milk!
But this coat was different. It was something new. Beautifully made for just one person. I was proud to wear it each day.
The coat taught me a powerful life lesson. It taught me that being frugal with your money doesn’t mean you can’t be generous with your love.
Today, I have a second-hand sewing machine of my own – another smart gift from my mom. I use it to share my love with others. I remember creating a pair of oven mitts for my wife, Sofie, the first Christmas we were together.
On the backs, I crocheted the words “Sofie’s Kitchen”.
When Sofie unwrapped them, I fully understood the look on her face. She was touched in a way that no store-bought gift can achieve.
Passing on the legacy
I still have the red coat my mother made me. It’s kept safe in a box in the basement, waiting for my five-year-old son, Owen, to grow into it. And who knows? Maybe someday Owen will pass it along to his own children.
Left: The well-loved oven mitts Dan made for his wife, Sofie, years ago. Right: The coat waits patiently to plunge into winter with another boy! Photos: Sofie Wilcox and Debbie Wolfe
I’m certain mom never expected that red and blue coat would leave such a legacy or transform my outlook on life. But that’s what a gift given with love can do.
The right gift
As Dan discovered, every child’s ‘most-needed’ gift can be something completely different.
The world’s most vulnerable children understand what it’s like to be cold, hungry, thirsty and sick. The right gift at the right time can save lives, strengthen bodies, and encourage children for tomorrow.
The World Vision Gift Catalogue has ‘most-needed’ gifts like healthcare, food and water for girls and boys in situations of desperate need. Would you give today, and create a legacy of change for children’s futures?
It all begins with your click.