My mom died before my dad, and he was adamant that other than her clothes, nothing of hers was leaving the house while he was still in it. But because I was the kind of daughter who liked to look through her mother’s drawers—I must confess it—I knew which drawer had the good jewelry, and which had the pretty costume pieces and where the out-of-style pins from the 1960s and 70s had landed in the guest room.
And I knew that in the drawer with the precious jewelry was a clipping, an old Ann Landers column encouraging children not to fight over their parents’ things, whether money or material objects. My brother wasn’t inclined to snoop in drawers, but he knew how our mother felt about it, too, because she talked about it when she was dying, too young.
Don’t fight over things. That was her sermon, delivered gently, subtly, never to both of us at the same time.
My father heard it, too, and somehow we knew, my brother and I, how to proceed. We took turns choosing, first in this room, then in that. We sat down at the dining room table, the one that’s in my house, and went through the things in the safety deposit box, where we discovered our dad had moved a *few* things of our mother’s. We considered our daughters and divided the good jewelry.
A huge moving van pulled up outside our parents’ house in Virginia, and the movers packed it in two sections, one for Pennsylvania and one for Maine. This was a long time ago, fourteen years, and the things that came to my house are worn down now by dogs and children, showing their age.
So it was strange to visit my brother recently for the first time in many years and see how the other half of the material objects had fared. There are three children in his family, too, and dogs have lived in his home, but somehow everything at his house looks just the same as it did when we packed it on the truck in 1998. The things I hadn’t seen in such a long time looked so shiny and pretty; I stood in front of a mirrored wardrobe and caressed the gleaming wood.
I had a moment, just a little moment, of remembering how we divided things up, of the place where the system failed, when I realized his wife had written a list and helped him develop a strategy, so that even though we had promised to do this just the two of us, she was there.
My brother might tell the story differently. I assumed he wouldn’t care about the old-fashioned music box if he could have the Grandfather clock, but later he told me that he couldn’t have chosen the music box because I had been so vocal about wanting it.
We all have our stories.
In Proverbs 3 we read:
Happy are those who find wisdom
and those who gain understanding.
(Wisdom’s) profit is better than silver,
and her gain better than gold.
Her value exceeds pearls;
all you desire can’t compare with her.
In her right hand is a long life;
in her left are wealth and honor.
Her ways are pleasant;
all her paths are peaceful.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who hold her tight are happy.
The LORD laid the foundations of the earth with wisdom,
establishing the heavens with understanding. (Proverbs 3:13-19, CEB)
Our memories are like that wardrobe, drawers and shelves of treasures, hangers holding banners of the past. When I think of the things my parents collected, the ones in my brother’s house and the ones in mine, what matters about them is not their value or even how well-polished they are. What matters is the joy my dad took in buying a print he loved or the image I can conjure of my mother getting dressed for a party then taking off one piece of jewelry. What matters is sitting around the table we shared and laughing with the next generation the way we told stories with the last. What matters is the hope they had for their children, that we would love the memories of them stored in our wardrobes and have the wisdom to let the rest go.