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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn


Ian's precious gift

Over coffee, a girlfriend and I discussed our Christmas holidays and the memories evoked by both unearthing the Christmas ornaments and putting them away again. I get the most pleasure from the unwrapping and decorating, when sweet thoughts of friends and family come to mind as the tokens of friendship, love, and vacation memories are turned loose. This year, I was much more emotional about taking down the tree.

A gift to myself from Italy.

There are ornaments from domestic and international travels, from friends who have passed away or who now live far away, and from the family trees of my youth. Touching them brings back memories of the times when I received or purchased them, or the love with which they were given. One is particularly precious because of the sentiment and person behind it.

The balsa wood dolphin was made for me by a young man who helped me with packing when I moved from the Virginia home where I lived for twenty years. In his early years in high school, Ian (not his real name) was one of three boys I hired to move heavy boxes and handle some of the last minute dismantling in the garden.

From the boys and their pets, with the message, "we wanted you to get a gift in a blue box [Tiffany]."

Ian arrived for work the first day a little early, skateboarding from his nearby home. He introduced himself with some awkwardness and a friendly outstretched hand. I liked him right away. The other two boys were late and far less eager to be helpful than they were to kill the time until they got a very generous cash payment.

A gift from our family friend, Deen, who passed away last year.

It was a long day and Ian, who needed structure and detailed instructions, worked the hardest and finished his tasks thoroughly. At the end of the day, everyone was paid and Ian and only one of the other boys were invited back to help again the next day.

The final day was more grueling and Ian arrived early again, ready to work hard. By the time the massive truck was loaded, he and I had spent quite a lot of time together and he expressed concern about where I was going to stay that night. I told him I was ordering a pizza, blowing up a mattress and sleeping on the floor with my dogs. He hugged me good-bye, shook hands with the crew, and skateboarded home.

Soon I was alone. It was just the two big dogs and me in an empty house with unfamiliar echoes. It was very sad and weird to be there for the last time in the home where my boys had grown up and three dogs had stood watch over us. Pizza finished, with the help of the dogs, I began preparations for a long night on the air mattress. The doorbell rang and I was afraid it might be someone inquiring about the house that had not yet sold. It was Ian.

“I made this for you when I got home,” he said. He gave me a small box that had originally held a clarinet reed and I was a little puzzled. “Open it. I thought you should have something to give you good luck for Florida.” Opening the box, I began to cry. Inside was the dolphin pictured above. I tried to explain how much I appreciated the gift and I am afraid I ended up scaring him because I was a blubbering old woman, nearly shaking with emotions. We hugged again and I told him it was one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone had ever given me


He skateboarded down the street toward home and I went back to my mattress and big smelly dogs. I was emotional enough at that point that the dogs hovered nervously and I created a puddle of tears on the floor.

When I got to Florida and my new home, I emailed Ian’s mother, who had been my original contact for the work that I advertised on the Next Door app. I told her that her son was the most important part of my last hours in the house I left, and that I was certain his manners, thoughtfulness, and work ethic would take him far. She appreciated my comments and wished me well.

Two years later, I ran across her contact information and reached out. She responded almost immediately and informed me that Ian was in his sophomore year at a very competitive college and had selected a daunting major. I couldn’t have been happier.

Now the dolphin is an important feature of my Christmas tree and lives on a prominent shelf during the rest of the year. I think of Ian when I see it and say a little prayer that he continues to do well.

Dolphins are prevalent along the ocean shores where I live, and in the brackish waters of the marshes and rivers. On a recent boat trip conducted by Amelia River Cruises, we watched dozens of dolphins playing and fishing along the Amelia River and the connecting marshes.

After hearing that dolphins have been observed taking care of one another, I like them even more. Apparently when a dolphin is injured and cannot come up for air, they sometimes band together and help raise the injured member of their pod so that they can breathe. As a spirit animal, the dolphin represents harmony and balance. Their playfulness, as exhibited on the recent cruise, was a reminder to “approach life with humor and joy.”

Way to go Ian!

Baby memories

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Jan 11, 2020

Very thoughtful, indeed! Enjoyed reading about some of your ornaments. And pictured the night before moving - difficult to do, and you handled it well.


Jan 05, 2020

Wonderful bit of wisdom. Think writers sometimes think deeper about the little things.

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