The rough, russet carpet of the front room of our tiny apartment was threadbare. My brother John, age 7, and I, age 9, scooted and ran around this space, unaware that we lived below the poverty line. Our father had recently deceased and my mother was desperately trying to support the two of us by working long hours as a hairdresser. Her good intentions were seriously impaired by the onset of alcoholism. In order to survive in our family, which was experiencing great emotional pain and stress, we developed maladaptive, compulsive behavior. Both John and I were neurotic and did a variety of unbalanced acts to get our needs met. The saving grace of these desperate years of my youth was the amazing community in which we lived, Clayton, Missouri.

Clayton is an affluent suburb of St. Louis. To this day, the public schools are highly rated, some of the best in the state. Children, who are fortunate to attend, grow up prepared for college. Most citizens of Clayton are healthy, contributing, members of society. My family was on the fringe of this Mecca for professionals and connoisseurs. An act of kindness permitted us to enjoy this opportunity for a superb education. At the time my father died in 1950 his distant cousin owned our apartment building. He continued to rent to my mother at a substantial reduction. I was told many times that without this gift we would be close to living in the street. I never took that loving gesture for granted.

True giving comes from the heart without expectations. To have compassion for another and then act upon it is a deed of love. When this far-removed relative rented us a unit at a reduced price, he had no idea how his goodwill would alter my life. I had many friends and they welcomed me into their homes. I was able to share experiences with talented and well- balanced people. This gave me the chance for some sanity outside my own immediate dysfunctional environment. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning morals from these fine families. I was forging roots that would nourish me for many troubled years during my 20’s and 30’s.

Another gift to me was my mother’s sister and her husband Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally. They were sweet, caring, and better balanced than any of the rest of our kin. Maybe should use the word: But were fairly They were fairly naïve and didn’t recognize the emotional abuse my brother and I were experiencing. My aunt would often rub the deep scowl line between my eyes and comment, “Why do you always frown, Kay? You must stop. This will become a permanent fixture on your face.” She was unaware of the significant turmoil that we lived with each day. My aunt and uncle didn’t have children. They deliberately gave John and me an abundance of love and attention, filling in the void in our lives.

I cherish several memories of beauty, which are ingrained in my soul. Famous-Barr, a large department store in St. Louis, housed a lovely tearoom. Several Saturdays a year my aunt would invite me to accompany her on the bus for the trip downtown to lunch. I remember we transferred several times passing unique neighborhoods along the way. We both wore white gloves, my long fingers resting in hers. Such a simple gesture as holding hands, walking with her to the cozy restaurant, enjoying a wonderful luncheon and then combing through “sale” merchandise on the basement level; I was in heaven. Aunt Letha knew I loved to dress up; I had only one outfit, which I wore proudly for each outing. Although we rarely purchased anything on our travels I’ll always remember how secure I felt being with her, just the two of us hanging out together.

The same was true of my uncle. He would escort me in his blue De Soto to Steak and Shake, the local drive-in, for cheeseburgers, once a week. We barely spoke sitting high atop the uncomfortable black leather stools, but I just loved being in his presence. What a kind man he was! Often when my friends and I would go to the movies on Friday night, we would need a ride home. I would call Uncle Wally and he would get out of bed, dress, drive three towns to the cinema, and pick all of us up, and take each girl to her home. He never complained or refused to do this, it was a loving gesture in affection for his niece.

The two of them gave freely of their time and their money. Each birthday I was given ballet, tap, and jazz lessons for the whole year. They paid for all my dancing shoes and recital costumes. Without their generosity
I would never have studied dance. I went on to teaching at the local theater where dance and choreography contributed a large part to my survival during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Valentine’s Day has always been special to me. I can remember as far back as elementary school thinking about my classmates and carefully deciding which rhyme was best suited for each friend. The verse was important; I didn’t dare use the word “love” for a boy. My daughter, now 9 years old, is just as discerning when picking her choices from the collective bag of 32 purchased at the drug store. She and I have taken the day seriously. For several years we made our own cards for as many as 50 friends and family. We used watercolors, acrylics, doilies, old-fashioned stickers, glitter and glue. We would top off each design with an appropriate poem. This project would begin early in January, as each layer needed time to dry. What fun we have had with the symbolism of February 14th, a great time to honor our loved ones with sentiment from the heart.

My husband Bryan and I had only been together a few months when St. Valentine’s Day approached in 1986. I was still healing from years of sickness as a codependent woman. This was the first time that I was able to give something romantic to a man without feeling needy and trying to control the gift exchange. I didn’t have much money at the time but that didn’t stop me from creating a valued gift. I decided to present him with a basket containing items to stir his five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. I found an inexpensive woven container at Cost Plus and lined it with pink and red tissue paper: For sight, I created a collage filled with a variety of colored hearts; A tape, “Love Songs Are Back Again” by Band of Gold for sound (this wasn’t his taste in music but it is the thought that counts), Men’s cologne for smell (I found out later he didn’t wear cologne), For taste, home-made brownies that I learned right away were his favorite, and Soap on a Rope for touch. To this day, I feel “Soap on a Rope” is an odd phenomena. It isn’t comfortable to use but it looks practical. I still have one hanging in my shower. These five items completed my presentation.

What I didn’t know was that Bryan had a surprise of his own. A new confectionary had recently opened on 16th Street in our San Francisco neighborhood. An industrious couple that made the most delicious chocolate leased this small space. They displayed gorgeous velvet heart boxes filled with their trademark truffles. I would walk by there on my way to the trolley and admiringly dream of receiving a beautiful burgundy box. Of course I didn’t dare mention this to Bryan because our relationship was new. He too passed this store and purchased a box for me, presenting his gift accompanied with a bouquet of flowers. I was deeply touched because I had never before received a heart shaped box of chocolate from a beau. This year is the 20th anniversary of Joseph Schmidt the owner of the confectionary. They are now known all over the world. I have received many heart boxes purchased from their outlet in San Francisco but none quite as precious as that first one.

I am sentimental. Bryan also had another gift, one that blew me away. From his pocket he pulled out what looked like a heap of metal wire. I didn’t know what to say because I wasn’t sure what it was. As I looked more closely and unraveled the cluster, I saw that he had fashioned a hanging heart wire sculpture. This piece of original art has rusted over time but it continues 19 years later to hang in our kitchen as a reminder of the great guy I married. He has always told me he wasn’t creative. I beg to differ with him. I was filled with as much joy from that moving design as the luscious burgundy velvet box stuffed with Joseph Schmidt truffles.

Gifts from the Heart

Are you stumped when it comes to giving gifts? I want to share some creative ideas to arouse your imagination. When you acknowledge another person with a thoughtful gesture, you will be fulfilled as well. It feels good to see someone smile. Don’t be shy, try one of these today.

1. Purchase disposable bread pans with lids (they often come 3 to a package.) Bake your favorite bread mix and then wrap it with a beautiful bow. If you can’t tie a bow, no worries, they are sold ready-made in bags.

2. Take pictures of your family and friends doing ordinary, everyday activities, outside and around the house. Have duplicates made of the pictures (often the second set is free.) Purchase small inexpensive albums, found at camera shops and large drugstores, with slots for 12-24 pictures. Give these to people you love. Parents and grandparents treasure these tiny albums.

3. If you have a digital camera, take the time to e-mail friends and family on your mailing list with current pictures. Keep the camera with you to catch unexpected events.

4. On index cards or colored construction paper make a series of coupons wrapped together with a ribbon or stapled into a small booklet. Be imaginative with these coupons. For adults: a home-cooked meal, an evening at the theater, a night out dancing, babysitting for the kids at no charge, a weekend getaway, a day at the beach, and on and on. Think about this one. What would the person really want and need, that you are able to give? I have done this so many times. It is really fun! You can do the same for children: A day at an amusement park, swimming at the beach, a professional baseball game or other sports, books or videos of their choice. Just be sure with the children’s coupons you are prepared to do what you offer. Be specific as to how often they can be used or give them one at time.

5. Support your friends and loved ones by calling them on the phone or stopping by their house to listen from your heart. Ask questions about how they are feeling. Often when our elderly relatives begin to repeat themselves we tune out. Make an effort to really listen and be there for them.

6. Always send a thank you card when someone gives you a gift. Paint a picture with words. Describe how special the gift is and how you plan to use it.

7. Write a letter to a friend who has lost a loved one. After a few weeks, when the loneliness really sets in, call them on the phone and let them talk about their loss.

8. If you are one of those rare people who find cleaning and organizing therapeutic, offer your service in a card or coupon. A couple did this for me once. It was amazing. They did a spring cleaning in my apartment as a birthday gift. Wow!

9. Take a friend or loved one to a concert or a sports event, even if it isn’t your taste. Make sure they are available that night and then surprise them with tickets. You can really make this special by also taking them out to dinner.

10. If you are a couple, include a single person with you for a night out. I have talked with many divorced and widowed people who feel lost and alone. They appreciate being included for an evening of fun.

11. Offer to drive an elderly person without transportation to do his or her daily chores. Sometimes people are debilitated and need help with their shopping. If they are incapacitated you could do their errands for them.

12. Bake a variety of cookies and place them in a decorative tin or basket. Use cellophane to wrap the package and then tie it with a beautiful ribbon and hanging gift card. Sign your note with a gel pen and remember to draw a heart whenever you sign your name.

Love, affection, tenderness, empathy, understanding, and friendship all radiate from the center most vital part of our being. From heart to heart, soul to soul we infuse energy into our consciousness. For each of us on the road to healing it is the best way to come to life. I am going to give of myself today. What about you?

Author's Bio: 

Kay Kopit, accomplished artist, actor, writer, speaker and gifted teacher.

Kay Kopit grew up in the Midwest town of Clayton, Missouri. At the age of sixteen she choreographed as well as designed and made costumes for several high school productions. Here she found her passion for art and theatre.

Kay attended the University of Missouri where she received a B.S. in Art Education and M.A. in Painting and Ceramics. While in college she continued her interest in theater production succeeding in choreography and costume design for several major productions, including “Carnival” and “Once Upon a Mattress.” After graduate school she taught Life Drawing, Design, and Ceramics at the very prestigious Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.

In 1969 Kay was inspired to move to the East or West Coast. By the flip of a coin (literally) she decided to move to the East Coast where she made Boston, Massachusetts her home. She was immediately offered a position teaching art at Lexington High School. After several successful years teaching Kay was determined to pursue a career in the arts and theatre and moved to California.

Kay moved to San Francisco where she trained with Wendell Phillips of the well-known Stagegroup Theatre. For several years she studied acting, dance, public speaking, and playwriting with reputable names such as Elizabeth Huddle of A.C.T., Peter Layton of The Drama Studio of London at Berkeley, and Sue Walden of the Improvisational Workshop.

Kay had continued success in her acting and modeling career. She appeared in many national commercials including: Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Hunt Wesson Foods, Totino’s Pizza, Shaklee, and many more. She acted as the principal spokesperson for several Industrial Films including: Chevron, Fireman’s Fund, Zenger Miller Productions and American Protective Services. Her print work was extensive including: Ketchum Advertising, Safeway, and Emporium-Capwell.

Most recently, Kay is the writer and producer of a documentary of her life story, “I Survived: One Woman’s Journey of Self-Healing and Transformation” which covers 15 years of living with an alcoholic. Although Kay was successful in her life, behind closed doors she endured pain, shame and emotional maiming. Her story is being told to help others overcome the debilitating disease of codependency.

Kay is now living an amazing life with her husband Bryan of 17 years (who just happens to be 19 years her junior.) To complete their family they adopted a daughter at birth when Kay was 54 years of age. Besides being a mother and wife she continues with her love of painting, writing, teaching and speaking on the subject of codependency. Her passion is not only the arts but to help people through her inspirational story. Her courage, stamina, and faith have given her direction and the gift of helping give others hope. Kay has several published articles and writing a monthly column for Recovery Times, lecturing and doing workshops for The Mandana Center in Oakland, CA.

Read more about Kay Kopit at

Contact: Rhonda Boudreaux
Kay Kopit Productions