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Sharing your gifts all year

Every year for the past several years, around Thanksgiving, a small package arrives in our mail. The package is a padded envelope with a return address of Bemidji.

Every year, I'm surprised to see it.

Inside, wrapped neatly in tissue paper and tied with a strand of wool yarn, are two or three pairs of woolen mittens. They come with a card from our friend Win, who lives in Bemidji. I suspect many others in Win's life receive unexpected packages like this.

Win always includes a note: "Hope you can use these mittens. If not, pass them along to someone who can." Simple and direct, written in her flowing script.

Every year, I am taken away with Win's generosity. Our paths crossed a few years back, fairly briefly, and yet she remembers us each year. I have tried to reimburse her for the mittens, but she will have none of that. They are her gifts to us.

I always write to thank Win, and to tell her how I use the mittens. They are the soft, warm liners for my moosehide chopper mitts. When my hands get cold while I'm jigging for lake trout on some border country lake in January, I slip my hands into Win's wool liners and warmth is on the way.

Sometimes, the best gifts don't come at Christmas.

In our refrigerator at almost all times are little jars of summer. They are filled with raspberry jam put up by our neighbor Correen, with help from her sister-in-law Myrtle. Spread that on your toast and take a bite. Immediately, it's July, and the berries hang heavy in Mel and Correen's raspberry patch. That jam explodes with the tart succulence of fresh raspberries. It's almost like picking one from the plant and popping it in your mouth.

When we return the empty jars to Correen, she sends us to the basement to get more.

Sometimes, the best gifts don't come in December.

On a canoe trip this past summer, I admired the lightweight cutting board that Terry, one of my companions, had made. A week or so after the trip, he delivered one to my door.

Win's mittens, Correen's jam, Terry's cutting board -those are gifts given from the heart, made with someone's own hands, probably with a little sweat and certainly with some time involved.

We try to complete the big circle of giving in our own way. Phyllis picks strawberries and passes along her strawberry jam. I share photos I've taken or try to write something when the need arises. This past year, when a friend from France wanted to go winter camping in the canoe country, we went.

All of us have some kind of talent, something to share. It's just a matter of figuring out who needs our gifts.

I think about a line from a song that Duluth musician Steve Horner wrote:

"Offer up your best gift, pass it all around..."

That's what Win is doing. That's what Correen and Myrtle are doing. That's what Terry did.

That's what all of us can do, at Christmas and beyond.

Cook writes for the Duluth News Tribune. The Pioneer and News Tribune are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.