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Berdine's Corner

The Greatest Gift Of All

by Deborah E. Dennard

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Berdine Dillard Dennard

Life Lessons from a Matriarch

I have had some incredible birthdays, but there is one that tops all of them. It wasn't my 12th birthday when my parents gave me a birthday party and invited the boy I had the biggest crush on. It wasn't my 25th birthday when my roommate and my friends chipped in to buy refreshments and a birthday cake and threw me a surprise birthday party at Savannah State College. It wasn't even when I bought my first brand new car, a gold metallic Saturn SC2 on my 28th birthday. When I think back on all of my birthdays, the most special of all of these would have to be my 41st birthday on October 2, 2008. I cherish this day because not only was it spent with my mother in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with just her and me, but also on that day, she gave me the best gift I've ever received.


My mama was dying of cancer. I knew this, and so did she. I had taken a leave of absence from work because she had taught me that other than Jesus, family was the most important thing in life...not your job, not your house, not your money, but family. Someone had asked me earlier in September while I was still in Georgia, "What are you going to be doing for your birthday?" I remember replying, "I'm not sure, but the one thing I am sure of is that it will be spent with my mama." I think I left for Tulsa the next week.


On that day, my mama was so weak. We didn't do much. I remember her asking me what I wanted to do. I told her that I would go to my favorite restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, and buy my favorite meal, and that was all I needed. She asked me to write myself a check from her for $200.00. She signed it and told me that it was for my birthday. She asked what I was going to do with it. I told her I was going to buy something for the house. Oh, how I cherish the drapes in my dining room and great room that I bought with it. I call those Berdine's curtains. She was very weak. That night, I helped her get dressed for bed, gave her a breathing treatment and what seemed like a dozen pills, prayed with her, and watched Survivor, eating my birthday meal. Although I was melancholy, I was at peace because I was where I wanted to be...there for my mama.

But more than I being there for her, my mama was there for me; 25 days before she died. On October 2, 2008, she was there for me just one more time. Earlier before I went to Outback, my mama asked for her notebook. I took it to her and gave her a pen. That is when she gave me the greatest gift I think I will ever receive. My mama wrote me a love letter. She had written both my brothers on the day before, but at 6:10 p.m., Tulsa time, last year, my mama wrote me a letter telling me how much I meant to her. She told me that she couldn't have ordered a sweeter child if she had tried. She reminded me that I had never given her any trouble. This meant so much because all of my life all I have ever wanted to do was to make my parents proud. She reminded me of our good times (we often danced together), our shopping trips, cooking in the kitchen, and other things that women do together. She thanked me for spoiling her with nice gifts. She told me always to be happy and loving, even if I never marry. She teased that men were crazy anyway. Because she was sick, I had sat out of school and put off pursuing a higher degree. She told me that she knew I would get it.

Then, she left me some instructions. She charged me to always share with my brothers, to take care of my father, to draw closer to God, to always try to help someone else, and to always remember no matter how much money I make that ten percent does not belong to me, it belongs to God. Once she finished writing it, my mama gave it to me and told me to seal it and put it with the others she had given me the day before. She said she had one more to write (for my daddy). She told me not to give them out until later, and looked at me, so that I knew when later was to be...after her death.

I remember after she died when I told my daddy and my brothers that we all had letters from her that I'd taken home, how excited everyone was. All of the letters were loving and left us guidance. It is the best gift I have ever received in my life. The day after Christmas last year, I later found another letter written for us in a notebook by her nightstand.

  I know everyone thinks his or her mama is great. I am no different. Berdine's Corner only captures a smidgen of what my mama was like. She was the greatest person I knew. In her wisdom on her deathbed, she thought enough of us to leave us a tangible sign of her love, a precious gift, the greatest gift. I miss her so very much. I hope one day to be half the woman she was.

If you have children, please take the time to tell them how very much they mean to you. Don't just assume they know because you work hard to provide for them. Better yet, write them a love letter. It will mean so much more than any love letter they will ever receive. I can't tell you how many times I've read my letters from her. If you still have your mama, let her know what she means to you. I always told my mama what she meant to me and never stopped letting her know how much I loved and admired her. I have absolutely no regrets because her letters confirmed it; she knew we loved her. We can't stop telling her. That's why there is a Berdine's Corner.    

Berdine Dillard Dennard 
Aug. 1944 - Oct. 2008

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Berdine Dillard Denanrd and Deborah E.Denard