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In a few weeks I fly to MI to visit my parents to take inventory of their possessions. For decades Mother has been meaning to write down their stories  but she never gets around to it. Last Christmas, after she dropped a few bombshells about their knickknacks, I decided to take charge and fly home and do it myself.  I plan to take lots of photos and write down as many memories they can muster. Father started doing this already. He calls periodically to tell me what they have found rummaging around the drawers in the dining room and packed away in boxes. These telephone conversations resemble Bob Newhart sketches as I slowly drag out of them the details of this or that bricolage.

The biggest shocker so far was in the last phone call: Mother announced she was pleased as punch to have finally found the family opium pipe. It had been in the sugar bowl all this time.  After a pregnant pause in which I took a deep breath and my gathered my composure  I started playing twenty questions with her to discover I had an ancestor aunt who went to China on a mission during the Boxer Rebellion. Mother recalls this aunt was ejected out of the country, probably for being a foreign devil and a pest. That explains her hasty exit but what’s up with the opium pipe? Did she use it?  Maybe auntie wasn’t exiled by the Empress Dowager but by the mission pastor for opium smoking and reprobate living. Mother says of course not, but I smell a rat. Back home in MI it would have been quite the scandal to have a relation lounging around smoking opium.  Telling the neighbors auntie has a drug problem doesn’t sound so good, not as good being a Christian martyr.

The inventory is of course a preparation for the parents’ passing. I will know what has no value and what should be kept as precious objects. Goodness knows what I will do with the opium pipe. Putting it out in a garage sale with the unwanted utensils sounds just wrong, yet having it around the house would cause talk. I suppose I could try taking up opium myself if I can find a dealer of fine Chinese opium no rubbish.


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