Since my mom’s passing nearly a year ago, my siblings and I have been meeting occasionally to look through my mom’s belongings. The process, which is as cathartic as it is necessary, gives us the opportunity to select things of hers to keep and gives us insight into who she was when we weren’t around.
So far, what we have learned can be logged into two categories. Number one, my mom loved her children and grandchildren fiercely, even if she didn’t always know how to show it. Proof of this could be found in the boxes and piles of handmade gifts and cards that she had kept, including a Post-It note scribble that my oldest daughter had made which had been marked, “1st drawing.”
Really, it was only two scribbled circles.
The second thing we learned is that my mother had many gifts and many amazing qualities, but organization was not one of them. (P.S. Thanks, Mom, for giving that gift to me!) Each box that we opened had to be torn completely apart because there was no way to determine from the top what it might contain; one box had old bills, pictures, craft supplies and vacuum cleaner parts inside.
As we looked, we sorted. We put all of the pictures over here, all of the craft supplies over there. We donated items that no one else wanted but still had value. We threw out bags and boxes of things that we couldn’t fathom a use or home for. And we carted home a few things that we wanted to keep.
Most recently, we started looking through the pictures. Those would be the most dangerous to look at, we knew, because they have the power of stopping time. Actual glimpses into our past – frozen snippets of who we were – complete with honest reminiscences of our hairdos, weights and clothing.
For my own part, I saw the bad perm I just had to have in seventh grade that made my head look as though a finger was constantly in an electrified outlet. I was reminded that I went through a phase where one strap of my overalls was unfastened and hanging behind me at all times. That was a real thing people did back then, right?
I also saw the outfits that were handed down from me to my sisters, as they likely had been from someone else to me. For example, all three of us wore an old Catholic school uniform – its plaid contained the most beautiful shade of blue – and had our school pictures taken in it, despite neither attending Catholic school nor being Catholic. I also saw me wearing my favorite sweatshirt, one depicting “The Fonz,” long after the sleeves were too short.
We remembered that barn cats were plentiful, that Mom’s flowers bloomed every year, and that we push-mowed all of that yard! We saw ourselves playing baseball, planting gardens and building giant snow creatures.
And we were reminded that Mom, though awful at organizing her stuff, did her best at what mattered most. She loved us, she cherished our achievements and she kept it all for us to discover at just the right time.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.