Sorting Through My Parents’ Memories and Mementos
I’m learning a lot in the process of reassigning my deceased parents’ material legacy — in other words, figuring out what do with over 50 years of stuff in their house.
Every time I’ve gone there since my mother passed away in February, I have accomplished very little towards this end. On one visit, I paged through yearbooks and read my camp letters addressed to “the Fun-lovin’ Fidels.” (I have new respect for my mother for reading them the whole way through.) When my brother Robert assembled a box of family pictures, I obligingly took it home and parked it in a place where I would see it yet not trip over it — and that’s where it has remained. I’m still not sure what to do with it, but I decided to err on the side of caution and keep it.
The bedroom that was “mine” hasn’t been mine for many years. My small desk in the corner (my older sister Stephanie got the bigger built-in one, but somehow that never bothered me) is without the blotter that I doodled on; the desktop is now dominated by the mirror my mother used in her struggle against macular degeneration. The drawers are empty, too, with no sign of my legendary treasure: the small white box that warned everyone to “Keep Out.”
Inside was a snip of our dog Lobo’s white poodle hair. (Yes, even as a young girl, I was acutely aware that nothing lasts forever.) Now, according to Torah, dogs don’t go to heaven, but if they did, Lobo surely would have merited the opposite — he bit, he was never house trained, and he refused to eat dog food. We loved him because we didn’t know any better, but now not even his box of hair bears witness to his time in this world. This loss helps further my personal agenda not to be attached to stuff, sentimental or otherwise. Which is why I bought the biggest bin I could carry and decided to fill it with keepsakes. And when it’s filled, it’s filled.
The box sat empty in my parents’ living room for weeks until my brother Robert gave me a clear directive: take what’s yours. My first stop was to take what I always said I wanted: my collection of MAD magazines from their third floor. They, too, are gone, which only means I will have to work harder to remember “Dave Berg’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Then again, maybe I won’t.
With the focus of a scavenger hunt, I began collecting other items of mine: a diploma, a meaningless high school award, a yearbook. I do hope to find the picture frame with my name engraved on it, especially because it testifies that I came into this world weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah. All the dolls are “mine” too – including many Barbies, which I truly loved – but they look as if they’re better left as memories.
The Judaica is obviously mine, Robert assured me, even though it wasn’t officially mine and I’m not sure I even want it. But at least I can recognize it: the tzedaka box our kids gave my parents, the tchotchkes (mostly figurines of shtetl Jews), anything with Hebrew writing.
But my parents had lots of other stuff, too.
“Think about what you want,” my brother suggested as we looked around the basement.
“I want Moshiach,” I answered without hesitating, “and the most important thing to me is furthering that agenda.”
“I know that,” he answered with a smile. His answer made me happier than any stuff ever could.