When my mother was dying, she’d make lists and notes — and corner each of her daughters trying to determine where all her things would end up.
It wasn’t that we couldn’t have anything we might have wanted, it was that most of us really didn’t want anything. She desperately wanted us to cherish things she’d spent a lifetime collecting. The reality is that adult children have usually accumulated their own households, and no matter how good that couch is (“it really is worth recovering”), we already have couches. And linens. And artwork.
I know people with four or five sets of china, passed down to hands that must say yes and when they want to say no. Times change, and the idea of waiting to use things that bring you joy is odd to me. If you love your china, use it. Because when you’re gone, the chances are good it will end up turfed. The world has too many sets of china.
I’ve recently been helping some friends faced with the enormous task of sorting and dispersing their late parents’ life. Every picture tells a story, it seems, and so does every piece of crystal and each set of old skis and all those books and cabinets and tables.
The siblings and their children did claiming rounds, slowly naming pieces that could augment their homes. This is a special family, with everyone wanting to be certain items ended up with whomever it meant the most to. There was little rhyme or reason about what something might be worth; this is a time of emotion, and emotion rarely makes sense.
One of the daughters, my friend Jill, lives overseas. It was difficult to know some of the things she desperately wanted — a blanket box, some crystal glasses — would be so hard to get to her. Moving companies go by weight and size, not by the fact your grandfather carved this or your great grandmother quilted that. There is what something costs and there is what something is worth, and at no other time in life — the end of it — is this disparity so startling. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How could I possibly put a price on that?” try to ship it overseas and they’ll put a price on it for you.
Even after choosing and delivering so many things, so many more remained. A monster garage sale was held, where those in attendance got some beautiful items for a pittance. More was donated and much was hauled away. And through it all, I’d remember my mother’s pleading eyes and the lies we told her to let her rest.
When I bought this house, it came chock full of my parents’ possessions. Mom had cherry-picked what she wanted for her new, smaller place and the rest was mine.
My father was a collector, to put it kindly, and it took dumpster after dumpster to make a dent in the basement, the garage and the shed. Over the years I’ve pared even more, and after fake-moving this spring, I had the place cleared to the bare walls.
It’s taken me most of the summer to move back in and make it home, even though I never left. I am decidedly not accumulating much for two reasons: I like being unencumbered, and so my sons don’t have to face this taxing process when I go. I’m going to create memories, not collect china.
I’m getting on a plane tomorrow with a box marked ‘fragile’ in my lap. It means a lot when a mother and daughter both value the same thing; I can’t quite tug a blanket box into the overhead compartment for my friend, but I can deliver her mother’s crystal.