My mom passed away years ago. Her belongings have been distributed or donated long ago, but her personal items have been living in a trunk at the end of my bed for many years.
I know there are items in there, but had forgotten how much until my Aunt asked me to find a specific photo of my dad for her memoir. Finally, after forgetting far too many times, I took an evening and opened the trunk containing what’s left of my mother’s memories.
I found photos of my mother, from infancy forward, a few photos of my dad (including the requested photo) and lots of photos of my parents and siblings throughout our lives. I found graduation scrolls, dance cards, corsages, yearbooks and love letters from various beaux my mother had, along with a box of letters from my dad. After I’d finished, I looked at the piles strewn about and wondered if I should edit before I put things away again. These memories had lived comfortably in their musty trunk for years, why would I bother this time capsule now?
Sitting there among the boxes I realized how no-one past myself and siblings were really going to care about these photos of my mother’s life, or her graduation scrolls, or her dance cards, and none of us were ever going to care about that stuff nearly half as much as my mom had. My sons and daughters might enjoy having a few photos of Meemaw and Peepaw, as would their cousins, but they weren’t going to want the whole trunk full of memories. I mean, really, who can relate to the dried up corsage, carefully preserved in a plastic bag with the name of the dance and her escort pinned across the top? I’ll admit, it’s interesting to see the care taken, and the aura of history that pervades is tempting to preserve, but it’s really just a 60-year-old crumbling flower when you get right down to it.
So, I decided it was time to edit.
I gathered all the old corsages and looked at them one more time, before carrying them to the trash and setting them into the container. Such care given for something I’m basically throwing away. I did throw away a few other items, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw out too much because the idea settled on me that I was throwing away a life. A lifetime of memories and collections. And even though I know that those things won’t matter to anyone after I’m gone, I still wanted to honor the items.
I’m not finished editing that old trunk, but I’ve also decided it’s time to start editing my own memory legacy. Time to pitch the things you think you need to save, but really don’t, and to organize what really means something to me. I know that when my children are left with the task of “mom’s things” after I’m gone, half of what I’ve saved won’t mean nearly as much to them as it did to me, but isn’t that how the cycle goes? After awhile, my daughter will edit my items and so on and so on.
We never own anything. We just take care of it for a little while.