For the fourth time in my life, I find myself going through the intimate possessions of a family member. It is a stark reminder I should never keep in my possession, things I do not want my nearest and dearest to find. Lucky for me, I don’t have drawers full of sex toys, illicit drugs, criminal records or secret lovers. My life has been very boring – an open book in fact.
Going through my grandmother’s possessions feels voyeuristic. I am not going through her possessions alone – we are sharing the load – but there is 98 years worth of photographs, letters and precious items to go through and I seem to have ended up with a lot of the personal stuff. She took none of it with her when she left this mortal coil. None of us ever do.
I want to both read everything in detail, and hide it away for fear of invading her privacy. Lucky for grandma though, she too did not have drawers full of sex toys, illicit drugs, criminal records or secret lovers. She did have drawers full of used envelopes, sachets of sugar, and toothpicks though. When you’ve lived through the great depression, you learn to keep everything – and I mean everything.
One thing I do love going through, are the photographs. The amazing beautiful photographs of people long gone and places much changed. Going through her personal photo albums is like a trip into history.
And then – when I was already having a lovely time looking at a teency little black and white photo of my grandfather as an infant, I found this gem. This beautiful, beautiful photo of my mother as a young girl. I saw this photo many times over the years – but not for a long time. I searched for ages after she died in 2009, and asked family members if they had a copy – no luck. Then out of the blue this afternoon, it turns up. I am so happy! She looks so young and beautiful, joyous, fresh-faced, full of hope. Her life went on to have so much sadness, but in this photo she doesn’t know that yet. She is happy. She believes in the future. She is healthy and whole and I love it. Even the koala loves it – look how happy he is!
It is not easy to go through someone’s personal possessions – to throw away their underwear and toothbrush, to wonder what on earth to do with thousands of books that nobody else wants, and find loving homes for treasured possessions – but it is also a beautiful gift to be entrusted with the care of the material representation of a whole life. Everything she owned at the time of her death – from hand towels to hand creams, and vases to vaseline – now to be sorted through and distributed. And I am fortunate enough to be able to keep some of these treasures, and keep those memories alive just a little bit longer.
A beautiful white scarf, gifted to her in the second world war by a pilot.
A unique, handmade coffee table.
A hoya plant and three hanging geraniums.
A stunning photo of my mother in the prime of her life.
These items have something far more significant than monetary value – they hold memories down to the core. Every time I see that scarf, water those plants, or rest a book on the coffee table, I will remember my grandmother and the stories she told.
And I will be forever – and ever and ever – eternally grateful to have been reunited with my mother’s youthful visage. A beautiful treasure.