Much of today was no picnic.
But somehow, in spite of all the long hours of work, we did what most families do when gathering for an extended-family picnic — we visited, we remembered, we laughed and we enjoyed wonderful picnic food. Foods like fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, deviled eggs and pimento cheese sandwiches. And an assortment of home-made desserts like chocolate cake, banana pudding, fried pies and cookies.
The kids ran and played and looked for ways to help their elders, who were busy sorting through years of life left behind by my parents. We stirred up the dust with our brooms and by the time the dust settled, two dumpsters were filled with remnants of my parent’s life — and more than a few of us carried home treasures of our own.
Some would call my mother a hoarder, though she wouldn’t have seen herself this way. Mom instead viewed herself more like a fairy godmother, turning junk into treasure with a little pixie dust. And I think Mom would be pleased to know some of her treasures ended up being treasures for those she left behind.
One of my treasures is an old family photo album that belonged to my great-great grandmother — she is known as “Grandma Morrison”, but in the days before she married, and had children who had children, she was just herself, Eliza Jacoby.
Knowing a little about my maternal grandmother’s history, I’m guessing this album dates back to the 1870’s. Most of the old photos are unidentified relatives, though a few have names written on the back of the photograph in the hand of my Great-Aunt Blanche, who gave the album to my mother.
The other treasures I gathered included some old family films, taken by my parents in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Until I can investigate whether these images can be digitized, I’m keeping the film canisters in an old King Edwards Cigar Box I scavenged upon in my mother’s former shop. Like many children of my generation, I always thought empty cigar boxes made perfect storage for all sorts of prizes.
The last treasure I brought home for myself was one of my father’s old VHS movies. In honor of a day of this family picnic lunch, I chose the movie Picnic, which was released in 1955, the year I was born. Picnic was one of Daddy’s favorite films, kept with all other favorites in the drawer of his television cabinet.
My father viewed his movies in conjunction with the season; Daddy watched Yankee Doodle Dandy around Independence Day, State Fair when the fair was beginning in September, and A Christmas Carol in early December. Most likely, Picnic was shown around Labor Day.
It’s sobering to see my parent’s lives together come down to us sifting through the rubble for treasures to keep, give away and sell. It’s a reminder that our time here is brief — that someday, not too far in the distant future, a few of the items we treasure may also be found worthy to keep by our own descendants.
And like me and my newly acquired family photo album, they may not fully know what treasure they actually possess. For now, it’s this same way with Dad’s video of Picnic. But I’ll make amends come Labor Day.
Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said:
Beautifully written. My sister and I will be going through Mom’s things at some point, but right now, she’s still with us. My father, well, that’s another story. Another time.~~Dee
I remember when back in 1985 my last grandparent died, and the family went through her things and distributed it where it felt right. As a lesser being(a grandchild among many) I was given quite a lot of practical items like plates and pans and even a washing basket(which I have still) but none of the “good stuff” like jewellery, which was fought and bickered over and it came to me at the time that one day, my things, my treasured things would be divided among those who were left. It reminds me of Jesus’s clothes being gambled over even before he died.
I adore cigar boxes and will buy them from tobacconists if they ever have them to use as boxes for jewellry and beads. My favourite tarot cards are stored in a cigar box made of cedarwood which scents the cards with the aroma of cedar and the ghosts of cigars and mystery.
I find that the stories about people, who are part of my heart,are the easiest to write.
Dad is still with us too — well, sort of — but he’s a permanent nursing home resident now.
We’ve had no fighting. For the most part, the stuff I’ve taken holds memory value for me. And it’s been the same for my siblings as well — we each have those items that mean the most to us — but the stuff is never as important as the relationship.
One of my favorite quotations is ‘on point’ with this thought — from Sister Elizabeth Molina — “Life is relationships…. everything else is just moving furniture.”
“the ghosts of cigar and mystery.” — what a great phrase. My Greek grandfather smoked cigars — so I guess I think of him when I smell cigar smoke — and in my young life, Papa was a steady source of treasure and treasure boxes.
It’s true that life is relationships ~ but sometimes we even develop relationships with things, and they become special to us. They don’t supplant the relationships they’re embedded into, but in time they’re transformed, and serve almost as tiny windows into time and memory.
I do know my time is coming – and again, how lucky you are to have siblings to share the task with. It isn’t the work I dread, but the loneliness. I’m hoping my aunt of cousin will come, when the time comes.
I do know this – you can’t approach such things haphazardly or with a lack of attention. When my dad’s mother died and her kids were going through the house, it was an attentive aunt who spotted the strange bulges in the hems of the living room drapes – and found the money.
You just couldn’t trust those bankers, even then 😉
Oh, I agree that objects can become windows to our past. Seeing old furniture from those years I was growing up — like Dad’s old stereo cabinet on Saturday — swooshed me down that fast slippery slide of time to see my younger father once again getting lost in his albums of music the way my Mom got lost in her Harlequin Romances.
It’s so easy to get lost in a trance, about tossing away this or that — after a while, it’s the big heave-ho. Luckily my sister woke up in time to realize she almost threw away our mother’s wedding ring. I think it scared us both, like when one jerks up into a sitting position out of deep sleep, when waking from a bad nightmare.
My sister was gathering boxes from the local small-town grocer last week. When she told Frank of her purpose for them, Frank told her — “If I know you’re family, then I bet you’re receiving plenty of help.” She told Frank he knew us well. I believe the outside awareness of how our family pitches in to help rallied my sister’s spirits for this daunting task. We had 24 people on site Saturday. And with all the hoarding my mother did, we still have hours and hours of work in front of us. But already spirits are lighter.
Knowing you through your words alone, I think you won’t be alone, when the time comes.