This spring I plan to visit my parents to go over their possessions and take inventory what is valuable and what is rubbish. Last Christmas Mother idly added into holiday chit chat bombshells about the items in the dining room . Example: for as long as I can remember there stands a small Chinese vase filled with what looks like withered potpourri. I suggested replenishing it. Oh no, she said matter of fact, those rose petals are from your grandmother’s wedding day, from her wedding bouquet. She added she was supposed to have them buried with her mother but she forgot to do so and she’s been meaning to spread them on grandmother’s grave. (Grandmother died in the 80s). Aghast, I would have thrown them out – why hadn’t she said something? She’s been meaning to write this down all these sorts of things – some day. Throughout the holiday weekend she gave me mild chest pains with further examples of curious things about the house, things that have significant family history attached to them. The nondescript bowl on the dining room shelf was revealed to be an 18th century creation my great-great-grandfather received as payment for military valor. It would have gone to a church rummage sale.
So – I decided I make a weekend jaunt and get Mother to tell me as much as she can about the bricolage about the place, what has value and more important what has significance.
My brothers have no interest in attending, as they are assured I will do a good job and pass it all on to them. I know many families who get ugly after the parents die; they fight over who gets what etc. My brothers and I will have the opposite problem viz. each will want the others to take it all so they don’t have to.
I am the genealogist of my generation. I know so much goes when a person dies. When someone dies there are so many unanswered questions as everyone assumed what was common knowledge in one generation will be remembered. Fat chance of that. Even the photographs in the family album, which were taken in the 60s-80s, look as unfamiliar as strangers on a subway. Who are these people? Why were these photo taken ? Oh, Mother would say, that’s your great grandfather’s sister in law, Great Aunt Marion, you know, the one whose clock you have ( Oh lawd!)
This trip will be a bit ticklish with its implication of an approaching death, their death. When my parents die, my brothers and I will probably throw most things out like the last scene in “Citizen Kane”. I want save a few Rosebuds from the fires of the forgotten – if not for me, then for my niblings and their descendants for when they become curious about their heritage. I can pull down from my shelf the bowl or the vase or the photo album and tell them the stories.