My parents passed from our family separated by just a few weeks. They were the bookends to eight children – the strength that held us together. The loss was sudden, unexpected and painful. Though I was well past middle age, I felt like an acrobat without a safety net – an orphan, and I drifted through the funeral like a ground mist that’s forgotten once the sun shines again.
My father had appointed my youngest brother and I as co-executors, and I found no personal financial or legal experience can prepare you for dealing with some else’s estate. Doubts and questions plagued me even with my father’s detailed Last Will and Testament. One area not addressed specifically was the household contents. With room for eight children, my parents’ home was a sprawling three floors filled to the brim with sixty years of marital accumulation. The Will placed a limit of sixty days for the beneficiaries to outline a plan of dispersal or the household contents would be sold and the proceeds divided equally.
So, my siblings and I held a meeting, and we did come to an amicable consensus. Cars, jewelry, furniture and objects d’art left my parents home first. My brothers and sisters returned the next weekend for selections from my father’s expansive library of books, music and movies. There was even interest in some of my mother’s clothing. Yet, when everyone had exhausted their choices, every room was still filled with stuff. An estate sale and a large dumpster helped, and soon the contents of the house dwindled. When we were done the house was empty save one bedroom of memorabilia that no one wanted. Yet, discarding the items seemed like an act of disloyalty.
Alone, I packed those last items in boxes. My father’s hunting trophies, plaques and commendations from years of employment, framed thank you letters from clubs and charitable organizations were all packed in boxes that overflowed with my father’s life. There was nothing of my mother here in this room.
Her life had been the recipe box that I had claimed as my own, the turkey platter claimed by sister #4 and the casserole dish claimed by sister #7. Still, I was sad there was nothing of my mother’s life in that last room; no trophy, not one citation.
When I arrived home, I carried the boxes to the basement for storage, pending a future decision on their fate. A curious wooden box caught my eye. The word Memories was carved across the top. I set the box on my dresser where it remained silent for the next few months. I dusted it when I cleaned, dressed around it before going to work and slept in the same room with it each night. My curiosity never overcame my grief, so the box remained closed.
Months later, it was done. My parents’ house was sold to a young couple, and I pictured their children rolling down the hill in the backyard or having Christmas dinner in the dining room as we had done. Life does go on. The probate taxes were paid, the estate was closed and my grief was soon replaced by happy memories.
I opened the Memory box. At first, I wished I hadn’t. Inside were letters written by a plaintive seventeen year old girl to her boyfriend who was vacationing in Michigan. Postmarked through August of 1949, she had written everyday to my father. It was strange reading my mother’s longing words. Her immature passion filled each page, and it was difficult to reconcile my competent mother with this childish banter. After reading, I replaced each letter in the Memories box and I wondered. Her letters evidenced that my father had written to her, but his letters were not saved. Yet, he had saved every one of her letters in a special box marked, Memories, as a keepsake. Then I thought, this was my mother’s trophy – sixty years of my father’s love and devotion saved in a box marked – Memories.