Valley Voices

Looking for that profound holiday gift? All that is needed are old family photos

A 2017 column Robin Fox Avedesian wrote on holiday gift giving.
A 2017 column Robin Fox Avedesian wrote on holiday gift giving. Fresno Bee file

Two years have gone by since I wrote about what to get the adult “kids” in your life for the holidays ... other than the usual gift cards or cash. (I donated to a charity of their choosing.) Last year’s gift was similar but I gave money directly to them and challenged them to make it grow. My niece, Danielle, a teacher, did just that. She even sent the following description to the Ellen DeGeneres show:

“Each year, my aunt gives my brother and me a task to find a way to give back over the holidays instead of giving us each gifts. This year, she gave us money to do whatever we wanted. Her only condition was that we give her the ‘why’ behind our decisions. I chose to build ‘Happy Bags’ that I would keep in the back seat of my car at easy reach to be ready to give to a person in need/homeless person wherever I go. In the bags would be a water bottle, a few snacks full of protein and substance that would be filling, and the best part...a kind note from my students.

“As I am a teacher, a co-worker gave me the idea of having my students write ‘kind notes’ to place in each of these bags. My 3rd grade students had so much joy making/writing/creating these thoughtful notes that they knew would put a smile on someone’s face who truly needed it. To show my 8- & 9 year-old students the power of giving back and how acts of kindness make the world a better place truly made this experience 10 times better. Let’s just say, it feels good to give back and make other people feel special.”

Later, Danielle shared that her students even got their parents involved. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a positive impact or to make a difference in the lives of others. Teaching her students the power of kindness and the meaning of giving … priceless!

When I asked for suggestions of how to follow these past ideas, a certain retired Fresno Bee editor (Kris Eldred) provided me with the perfect one! While I’ve created many photo books documenting travel adventures, it never dawned on me to make one for Danielle, her brother David, and cousin Ryan documenting their lives. It was the perfect gift for many reasons.

We live in a digital world and, I would venture to say, most people of a certain generation (30ish and younger) have never seen a “printed” photo. Dare I say Kodak or Polaroid? Pictures of them in their early years are tucked away in grandparents’ shoeboxes or parents’ photo albums stored in cabinets or closets. So I proceeded to lovingly re-create their childhood in pictures from their beginnings to present time. They have now outlived the age of their cousin, my son, Russell, who died at the age of 28 in 2010. Included in their photo books are pictures and stories of their growing-up years with each other and Russell.

Seeing their reactions as they first held these books, seeing the looks on their faces as they turned the pages, filled my heart with pure joy. As my niece shared with me, “best thing ever; what a treasure.”

Too often we feel we have to buy something more expensive, bigger and better, when it truly is the thought that counts. That is the treasure.

Robin Fox Avedesian, formerly of Fresno, now lives in Arroyo Grande. She can be reached at