My father is thinking a lot about dying these days.
That’s not unreasonable, since he suffers from ALS with a poor prognosis, and since my mom passed away at the beginning of November.
So my brother and I have been discussing what happens next, and the will, and all that sort of stuff. Ghoulish, but if you find yourself in this kind of situation, that’s what happens.
My parents have moved twice in the past twenty years; first, to Wisconsin, to be near my family. Next, to Florida, to be near my brother’s. They’ve shed a lot of “stuff” along the way. And that’s as it should be.
It occurred to me this evening, as I was doing dishes, that I don’t think of my parents in terms of stuff. Partly, that’s because they didn’t have much. They lived, instead. They could have afforded a painting by a famous artist, for example, but instead would spend weeks in Portugal, or would visit Thailand.
I have lots of bits and pieces of trivia from them. Mainly photographs. But I also have one item from each of them that I treasure.
From my dad, it’s a screwdriver that I’ve had in my personal possession for almost 50 years. It’s not unusual. It’s flat-bladed screwdriver with a knurled brass grip. Unscrew the top of the handle, and out comes a smaller, but similar, screwdriver. And the top of that comes off to reveal the third size.
As I said, not unusual. You can buy hammers that have screwdrivers like this hidden in their handles.
What makes this one special is that my grandfather gave it to my father, and my father gave it to me, and perhaps some day it will go to one of my children. Not a memorial, but as an every-day tool.
From my mom, I have a coffee cup. She was a potter, and made it for me when I was in college. It’s a gorgeous flat denim in color, slightly larger than the typical coffee cup (of the time) and it has her initials in the shape of a swan formed into the handle.
Here’s a photo of me in my college office, c. 1981, holding that mug:
So many things I no longer have–my beard, my youth, my “workers aesthetic,” that “Big Red” fountain pen in my pocket. But I still have Mom’s mug. It’s made for me, literally–I have big hands, and the handle is large enough to never cramp my style. It’s held coffee, tea, herbal tea, water, it’s made multiple trips around the country, and I still have it.
Back to my starting point: I don’t think of my parents in terms of stuff. I think of them in terms of who they are. I miss Mom; I’ll miss Dad. But–whether or not I manage to hold onto these keepsakes–my parents are a part of me.
My brother and I will not have to fight over the good silver, the nice samovar, etc, etc. They don’t exist. But wonderful, wonderful memories do.