July 10, 2016
My mother complains daily about how messy her house is.
And, yes, there are pockets of disorder
and corners covered in dust.
Yet, whenever I walk into her bedroom to poke around
in her bureau drawers (usually at her request),
I am astonished to see that every item in every drawer
is neatly folded and organized.
I can see that she has been hard at work,
trimming the fat of her life’s possessions.
But, when did she do all this trimming?
I spend half of every day,
seven days a week,
at her home,
doing for her whatever she asks of me—
mostly getting things for her:
a glass of water or a mint from the candy dish
on the end table in the living room,
a snack from the kitchen,
or help with her computer.
I suppose she declutters
during the hours when I am at my own home,
struggling mightily to rid myself of
my own mountain of things.
Her latest project is gathering together the piles of photographs
of our family’s life together as well as moments from her youth.
Lovingly, yet doggedly, she sorts through the photos,
cataloging them by relationship or event,
and carefully placing the sorted photos into labeled envelopes
which she then stuffs into an old shoe box.
While she sorts, she sometimes stops and calls me over
to show me a special memory—one she cannot completely recall,
or one she cannot see the details of, even with her newly cataract-free eyes.
I fill in the gaps as much as I can,
silently wondering why she works so obsessive-compulsively.
Once in awhile, she treats me to
a real treasure.
One day, a few years ago,
she pulled out of the coffee table drawer
a black and white photograph
of my father and his three army buddies.
(At 17, Dad looked to me like a kid dressing up in an uncle’s uniform.)
The photo is autographed: the word “Me!” scrawled across Dad’s arm.
Mom tells me, coquettishly, that this photo
signifies the first time ever she saw my Dad’s face—
from across a high school auditorium;
Mom, a student in the audience,
and Dad, performing in a USO show put on by his unit.
Their eyes met across the auditorium, she tells me,
and she knew then that he was The One!
“Don’t tell anyone,” she giggled,
as if she were still that little school girl;
“It’s a secret!”
(A secret no more—
It’s a treasure to behold!)
Yet, the family lore holds
that they were introduced by a mutual
when they were both working at the Lennox Movie Theatre.
Dad was a manager,
Mom a candy counter girl.
This was after Dad’s too-early foray into the military
(he was sent back home from basic training to finish high school!)
and before he really went to war in Korea.
(The passage of time blurs the narrative of their love story.)
And just a few weeks ago,
while searching for a shawl to wear to church,
Mom pulled out a beautiful military scarf, explaining,
“Your father had this made for me before he left for Korea.”
Why did I never see this before?
Why didn’t I even hear about this treasure before—
not even when Dad passed away nine years ago?
Then, I realize that these moments of time shared
are the true treasure,
and the stories she’s telling me now,
before time and memory slip away,
are my legacy.