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Cherish Memories: We Are Our Past

by Brenda Mahler 6 months ago in grief
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Mom lives forever through our memories

Image from author's photos.

“Just sell it all in a garage sale,” Dad said.

Dad acted tough, as if it was just a task to complete, when we trudged out to the shop in 95-degree weather to sort through boxes. He spoke like he didn’t really care what happened to the containers’ contents, to the cherished memories that accompanied him a year ago in the move from Boise to Cascade. The words collided with the passion in his voice. I opted to ignore the emotions and focus on organizing the garage sale; it was easier.

Mom had been gone since 2000, 6 years. We agreed to part with her belongings stored in the attic. Though we may not have remembered what the boxes held, memories exploded when we removed the yellowed tape and unfolded the cardboard flaps.

My mind created a system for organizing the contents. I envisioned empty boxes with prices marked on the top: 10 cents, 25, 50, $1.00 and so forth standing in a line on a table. Each box positioned to accept items of worth equal to the number written on top. It seemed like a good plan. I don’t know what Dad expected, but I heard all the reasons my plan would not work.

“There won’t be enough room to spread the boxes throughout the shop. We need to park the car in here, and some friends said they might be here next weekend. We will need the room.”

“Let’s just start and see how it develops. Dad, it might work.”

“I can’t decide which things to keep and what to sell.”

“No time like the present.”

“It will be difficult to decide how much this stuff is worth”

“We can work through it together.”

As the reasons to postpone the task accumulated, I listened, fully aware that each box held a piece of his past. My responses didn’t directly respond to his message because what he didn’t say expressed so much agony. Instead, I diverted attention to our mission.

Digging through one box at a time, I started the cataloging process. Dad limited his participation, but his comments were plentiful.

“Naw, that is worth more than that!”

“Don’t you realize that is an antique?”

“We’ve had that in the family for over 30 years!”

Dad displayed all the symptoms of a stroke as he complained of a headache, chest pains, and rapid heart beat. The thought crossed my mind that I might feel the same if I spoke in exclamations.

Within moments he retreated to the house to rest. I continued unpacking and repacking containers thinking the symptoms of a stroke seemed quite similar to the symptoms of an anxiety attack. As stickers priced the remnants of his 42-year marriage, he watched as a value was assign to his past. Once again, we were saying good-bye to Mamma.

My hands continued to categorize the knickknacks, dishes, office supplies and stuff. Numerous mismatched cups, plates, and saucers from multiple sets of dishes emerged. “Ten cents each,” I thought and stacked them in the appropriate box. A half-used roll of shiny, gold shelf-paper rolled unto the table; it matched nothing I had ever seen in the last two houses my parents owned. It joined the dishes.

Withdrawing a plastic bag, I recognized the contents of the junk drawer: rubber bands, keys, pens, and some things unidentifiable — most disposed of as no price could be determined. The junk drawer was always a tradition in our house. It accepted items that belonged nowhere else but might find purpose in the future.

I couldn’t believe Dad still had the plastic Strawberry Shortcake cups my daughters drank from before they were old enough to hold glass. Five pieces of crunchy dog food clustered in the corner of a box — remnants of Angel, their pet Chihuahua. Startled, I jumped when my hands touched, and my mind identified, a set of false teeth. The gold cap on the front eyetooth and the familiar smile, identified them as my mothers.

While I revisited moments of my past, the morning slipped away.

Dad returned feeling better and contributed by answering questions about items stacked on a table to my right. The postage-stamp-size picture that had emerged from the bottom of a box was the only remaining picture of my great, great grandparents. The pink baby booties in the padded, floral box might be mine. The collection of record albums must remain upstairs because there is no telling what they might be worth.

Then we discussed the destination of the dolls — dolls wearing crocheted dresses with matching petticoats, boots, and hats. “What should I do with the dolls, Dad?”

He shrugged, shook his head and muttered, “Whatever you think.” Then he relapsed to the chair in the air-conditioned house with sharp chest pains and a headache. Four boxes of dolls headed to my house, a decision for another day.

About mid-day I found myself no longer reflecting about the past but thinking in terms of dimes, quarters, half dollars, and paper money.

The project had become a chore as it was easier to encounter each item as an object rather than a memory. I sympathized with Dad because I, too, was reliving moments of my life. I knew he witnessed more than material possessions: he saw Mom’s smile; he heard events gone by; he felt emotions long forgotten.

Now, 20 years later, Dad periodically asks about Mom’s belongings

Image from author's photos.

“Her Eagle’s lodge vest?”

“In the cedar chest.”

Image from author's photos.

“Her personalized license plate?

“Chris has it.”

“Her dolls?”

“Each of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren have one.”

I assured him that her memory resides in each of our homes in one form or another.

Some days I hold Mom’s snowflake pin. The gem in the middle is missing, but I don’t care. The recollection of her smile, her voice, her kindness when I hold it, give it value. When I look around my living room, I see Grandma’s one-eyed teddy bear sitting on the grandfather’s clock.

Image from author's photos.

A song my daughter wrote for me in Mrs. Oldenburg’s middle school music class hangs on the wall. I’ve learned to appreciate items for their ability to evoke the past and not mourn what’s absent. When sorrow clouds my recollections, they become tainted, while cherished memories bring joy.

The day of the garage sale, we cried some, but we also smiled when talking about the first time Mom held each grandchild, the night Dad and she danced as King and Queen at the Eagle Lodge’s Valentine banquet, and the way she would sing off tune in church.

Literally hundreds of hours were consumed on Saturdays driving through subdivisions, exploring other’s castoffs, and discovering “key finds.” Mom always said, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

A contentment enveloped me upon realizing I had spent the day doing something Mom loved. If she stood beside me, it would have been a perfect day; however, I felt her presence. She would approve.


About the author

Brenda Mahler

Stories about life that inspire emotions - mostly humor.

Lessons about writing based on my textbook, Strategies for Teaching Writing.

Poetry and essays about the of art of being human.

I write therefore, I am.

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