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My mother's stuff

Memories of a life in a box

By J. R. QuinnPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
My mother's stuff
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I was recently given 3 boxes of my mother’s stuff.

My dad, divorced from my mother for 27 years, was cleaning out his attic and gave it to my sibling and I. I volunteered to take them. I have more storage space.

I immediately dug into the boxes, determined to organize it into piles, keep the really important stuff and throw the rest of it away.

My mom feels like somewhat of a stranger to me. I haven’t heard from her in 3 years, I haven’t seen her in more than 10 and the last time I really felt like I knew who she was was when I was in middle school. Of that time, I have very few good memories.

Over the years I have forgiven her for some of the choices she made. Now that I have made it through the first half of my 30s I understand what it is like having a family, the struggles of mental illness and I understand now that people make mistakes. She was an imperfect person, and she made imperfect decisions. A few years ago, we were working on our relationship, but I could never quite be sure if she was ever telling the truth about anything. I wanted so badly to have a mother, but there was a lot of damage that needed to be addressed and there was always the barrier of trust in our conversations. Towards the end, it began to feel like she only called me when she needed money. We slowly drifted apart, and I did a lot of reflection on who she was and what she meant to me.

Going through the boxes, I enjoyed reading all of her wedding planning notes and scrapbooks. For the short amount of time I knew my parents as a couple, they seemed very cute. I have just recently got married, so I felt like this was a new part of them, of her history, and of mine I could experience.

There were piles and piles of drawings from our childhood. She kept every scribble and note, every coloring page and doodle. She very clearly loved us and wanted to hold on to every bit of our youth as possible. I figured I really didn’t need to keep most of these.

There were birthday and Christmas cards from friends and family. Some of them from people I knew, some of them not. Some of them just had signatures on them. Maybe I would keep the ones from my grandparents, but I figured I didn’t need most of these either.

The contents of the boxes seemed like a never ending parade of snapshots of a life - a phone book directory from the church she went to in the 80’s with a family picture of my dad and her holding me as an infant; a magazine she had submitted and won a story contest in; wedding invitations from old friends; news paper clippings from important events in the 70’s; concert tickets; typewriter pages of a book she was writing. With each and every tiny piece of paper, a felt like I learned who she used to be. I felt like I got to see her, before everything went downhill. I got to connect with her and see how alike we are. The person I remember was different at one point, and loved life.

I currently do not know where my mother is. The last time I spoke to her, she was in a different state and had been living on the street. With her lifestyle and history, she is probably gone and I have opened myself up to the possibility that I may never get to know what happened to her.

Everything in these boxes was all that was left of her life.

She kept the things that were important to her. At the end of her life and the summation of her impact lies in her two kids, and this box. It gave me such a deeper understanding of not only who my mother was but how someone lives. They get birthday cards on their 13th birthday, they get letters from their friends when they have to move to Florida, they keep one napkin from their wedding in a scrapbook, they have kids who make art, and they piece by piece throw it in a box and disappear.

I decided not to throw anything away. I repacked the boxes into a few plastic containers, and put them in my craft closet, where they are most certainly in the way.

One day, none of those things will matter. My sibling wants nothing to do with our mother, but if they ever do they are welcome to any of these things. I have 3 step kids, but they never knew this woman, they will not have any use for it. There is no one else to hold these things after I am gone. None of the things in that box matter, but they made up a life I am sympathetic too, and all I can do is hold onto it.

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About the Creator

J. R. Quinn

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