Have you ever thought of what people would find in your home if you died suddenly, unexpectedly? I have. They might observe that I tried to be organized but still was messy in many areas. It’s just hard to keep things neat when I have lots of different things going at once.
Last week I helped my cousin go through her mother’s things. Though she lived 97 years, she’d lived in their retirement house only 20-25 years. That’s still plenty of time to accumulate.
How do you measure a life of 97 years by the items left behind? You don’t. But clues abound. Reading material, for example. Magazines and books about spiritual things. A worn Bible. The last devotional that her daughter read to her. She was above all a woman of faith, though she had many varied interests.
Birthday cards, anniversary cards, get well cards galore. Boxes of them. Drawers of them. Into my recycling bin.
A crocheted afghan that was finished except for the last row. I completed that row and brought it home to consider. Does it still need fringe? Maybe not. But why did she quit and stash it with only a half row left to do?
She loved birds, thus many bird magazines and an incredible number of books about birds filled shelves and tables. Bird feeders, pictures of birds on the walls. One granddaughter-in-law has requested all the bird pictures. Does she have any idea how many she’ll get?
The Royals of Great Britain. She lived through the abdication of Edward VIII so he could marry Wallis Simpson, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the wedding of Diana Spencer to Prince Charles (when she had to get up in the wee hours of the morning to watch it live), the death of Diana, Queen Elizabeth’s surpassing the length of Queen Victoria’s reign to become the world’s longest reigning monarch. Magazines about royalty had been saved for years.
Everything we found was so organized that it put us to shame. Her wedding suit and shoes in the cedar chest echoed the picture on the wall of her standing outside her parents’ home on her wedding day, hastened due to her husband’s call back to war in 1944. The bridesmaid’s dress she wore at her sister’s wedding the next year. (We figured out why it was kept by looking through old pictures.) A fur collar, no doubt from a treasured coat.
So what do you do with 97 years of memories? You keep, give to loved ones, give to others, send to the recycling bin, put in the trash.
A treasure I received is a lace tablecloth that was a wedding gift from her Aunt Edyth and Uncle Jim in 1944. Because of the stains, I just watched a Martha Stewart video on how to launder vintage linens. Hope it works. I must find Fels-Naptha soap—at Kroger, I hope. Not on Amazon, though hard to believe.
Josh got a small treasure, too, at her request. She told her daughter that she would find years of journals that she wanted to be burned. (Of course her daughter refused to promise that!) But she said that her first one should be returned to Josh because he gave it to her. It was from 1973 and in her lovely handwriting began thus:
Edmond, Okla – beautiful, sunny day but cold. What shall I write? Joshua Empson Boyd of Kentucky sent me this book as a Christmas gift. He is 4 months old and we’ve never met, but he drew my name for the Ralph Family Christmas party which was held Christmas Eve at the home of his Grandmother Bradley (my sister, Onezima) in Tennessee, Sumner County.
She proceeded to write about their experiences of the day. She wrote in the book, with her fine, close script, from January 1 until December 31—perhaps with a feeling of relief that she had completed the task I had set for her. After all, we know who actually sent the journal!
I am reminded of the story of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. Hezekiah had welcomed emissaries from the king of Babylon. When Isaiah the prophet went to Hezekiah, he asked, “What have they seen in thine house?” He was talking about material things, as I am here.
When people go through my things at some point, whether I am incapacitated or deceased, I have a pretty good idea of what they will find. Lots of books; Bibles; to-do lists; too many old greeting cards from birthdays and anniversaries past; underwear; clothes and shoes well-organized; nice jewelry given to me by Steve; costume jewelry bought by me or Kelsey; purses, purses, purses; mementos from social events, funerals, and around the world; two messy desks. Mess has never embarrassed me, for it’s a sign of an active life.
But I may try to get rid of those old greeting cards pretty soon—just to spare someone the aggravation. It would please Steve immensely.