Recently, I’ve been focused on sending things, items that I consider treasures, to where I eventually want them to live.
Downsizing aka Swedish Death Cleaning causes one to think about things differently. My frame of reference has shifted.
Space becomes a premium, and if we own something that would be better placed elsewhere, especially eventually, maybe now’s a good time to share the love.
Add to this the fact that Covid has also forced us to pause and reflect. We’ve had to seriously consider our own mortality in more immediate terms. We’ve learned what we can live without and perhaps reassessed a number of things in our life. This particular mix of factors has led me to rehome several items.
I’m not rehoming them because I don’t love them – but exactly because I do. I want them to continue to be loved by someone, the right someone, after I can no longer do that. I’ve realized you don’t have to physically possess something to love it.
The holidays is the perfect time to do this as well. It might be for you too. What better gift to give and receive than a wonderful heirloom filled with love.
I’ve shipped several packages recently. Let me tell you about one.
My Paternal Half-Sister
I haven’t yet written about my paternal half-sister, Edna, although I will soon, I promise.
Edna and I are a generation offset. She was actually two years older than my mother.
My Mom knew Edna, although not well, because they lived distantly. Edna was not close to our father. After Mom and Dad parted company, and Dad died, Mom and Edna kept in touch via occasional letter. I think over time that dwindled, then eventually trickled to a stop.
I didn’t meet Edna until I was an adult. In fact, I didn’t even know she existed except through vague references.
I suspect that my mother didn’t want to have to explain “life” surrounding my father – and trust me – I would have had questions. Lots and lots of questions.
I surely did when I finally met Edna.
A New Sister
I was over-the-moon ecstatic to have a sister. I was a young mother myself when that accidental discovery occurred.
From the day we met, we bonded like two cups of water in a bucket.
We wrote letters, talked on the phone most every Sunday and traveled to see one another. In many ways, it was like we had never NOT known each other. Perhaps we were trying to make up for lost time.
I had young children, but Edna and her husband had just retired and were in the process of moving to Arizona.
As my career developed, I often had to fly to the west coast. I arranged for a flight that landed in Phoenix so I could visit with her and catch the next travel leg the following day.
Edna’s children, who were my age and older, called me their “Baby Aunt.” I was the same age as Edna’s youngest daughter. We looked a great deal alike too as children.
This photo of our father with Edna’s children was taken about 1960.
For Edna and Cliff’s 50th wedding anniversary, I cross-stitched a celebratory sampler as a gift.
Edna and Cliff often came home to the north country and lived in their 5th wheel in the summer. It might be a “dry heat,” but it was still beastly hot in Arizona at that time of year.
They often set up the 5th wheel under a large shady tree on the farm that they used to own, then owned by one of their children.
To celebrate their anniversary, their grandson hosted a picnic. The entire family attended.
To prove I really was accepted fully as family – let me explain that they loved to tease me. Especially Edna’s grandchildren, some of whom were nearly my age.
The Volleyball Game
Picnic attendees were playing volleyball in the yard in the July heat at Edna’s golden wedding anniversary party. Everyone took a break, me included.
I moseyed over to the drink tent and spotted some lovely red fruit punch in a bowl full of ice. That looked so good. I dipped myself a nice large cup full. It was wonderfully cold, I was sweating and very thirsty – so I gulped the entire thing and filled my cup again.
We walked back out to the volleyball area and I leaped to spike a ball. I was invigorated and felt like I leaped higher than ever before. Wow, that punch was amazing!
The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to see everyone circled above me. All staring down at me.
I was flat on my back in the grass. Apparently, somehow that grass had gotten slippery. I had absolutely no recollection of how I got there or why people were staring at me. Things were a bit fuzzy and very funny.
The hosting grandson said to another grandson, “I think she drank some of the punch.’
“Well, that explains that,” someone said. Everyone started laughing uproariously.
As for me, I was still laying there happily confused. Man, that punch was lusciously good.
And what did me drinking punch have to do with anything, anyway?
Turns out, that was special white lightening moonshine punch. The fruit juice masked the taste.
And I had gulped a huge cupful.
I was feeling absolutely no pain.
I don’t remember a lot more about the rest of that day. But trust me, I never lived it down.
What glorious memories.
A Dozen Short Years
It truly never occurred to me that Edna might die.
Of course, I conceptually knew that SOMEDAY that would happen, but no time soon so it wasn’t anything I needed to think about.
A dozen years after I met Edna for the first time, she left the earthly realm. Just a couple years after the anniversary party, Edna was gone. Suddenly and unexpectedly.
Everyone was stunned. Grief stricken. She was the matriarch of her rather large family and greatly loved.
I was shell-shocked.
It felt like a cruel joke. I grieved her passing deeply and still do. It was like part of me died too.
Given and taken away all too soon. Without warning.
Edna possessed a great many talents and never failed to amaze me.
Among other things, Edna was a woodcarver.
My favorite carving was a spiritual piece. Three or four people of clearly different races standing closely together, looking upwards, suggesting to a higher power. This spoke of brotherhood, unity and peace without saying an actual word. It touched me profoundly. I wish I had a photo of that carving to share with you, but I don’t.
Not only did Edna meticulously carve the shapes, she also burned and sometimes selectively stained the wood to achieve depth and color.
After Edna passed over, her husband called and asked for my address. He mentioned that he was selling the Arizona property and moving back North in his 5th wheel, permanently. In other words, he didn’t have space for the gift I had made them.
I was very grateful for his candor and the fact that he returned the sampler to me so lovingly. He said that’s what Edna would have wanted.
He asked if there was anything else of Edna’s that I wanted. I told him I wanted one of her carvings, if there were enough to go around.
The box arrived with two items – the sampler and a bird wood carving. For all these years, her carving has been within sight in my office. I felt close to her, like she was watching over me.
The birds sometimes gathered outside the window near the carving. I guess it was one bird communing with another.
For three decades, the sampler and wood carving have been my silent sentinels, connecting me to her. What we had and was ripped from us.
I have moved from sadness and grief to joyful recollections, at least most of the time. That’s not to say I don’t still miss her. I do, of course. That gaping hole will never be filled. But I wouldn’t trade the absence of pain because that would have meant that I missed the joy and love.
Grief is but one manifestation of love.
As the family genealogist, it’s important to me to be sure that these two pieces ultimately reside in her family line. They belong with her children or grandchildren and their descendants. They are her legacy, her story, not mine.
I waited to the last day to wrap these. I wanted them with me as long as possible. It was difficult.
I knew that sending them off, or ”back home” as I prefer to think about it was absolutely the right thing to do, and that Edna would 100% approve. That still didn’t mean it was easy.
I don’t want Edna’s things to wind up in some rummage sale, or worse, after I’m gone, not that my daughter would do that. But at some point, down the line, someone WILL do that. ‘
I packed those two pieces up again, smiling as I thought of the day oh-so-many years ago that I opened the box from Cliff.
I released them and blessed them on their way.
A few days later, Edna’s grandson’s wife messaged me to let me know the box had arrived. She told me that she already had incorporated them into their family and hung them in a place of honor.
My heart was gladdened, and I was thrilled to know how much they love them.
Of course, this particular grandson was one of those white-lightening-punch culprits. He says he remembers that day when I gave Edna and Cliff the sampler. They must have opened their gifts after I drank that fateful punch😊
I’m so very glad to know these two heirloom pieces are now on a path of descent in Edna’s own direct line. I loved them every single day. They connected me to her. I know she loved them too. They were made by her hands and mine. But it’s time now for them to make their way among her descendants – not mine.
Seeing the picture of the two pieces, hung together in their beautiful home among their festive decorations assured me that I had done exactly the right thing. I’m so grateful she sent the photo to me. It removed whatever tinge of sadness I had about their departure.
The sampler and Edna’s the wood carving have made it home in time for the holidays!
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Ohhhh, Roberta! I’m fighting back tears. What a beautiful memory. Thank you for sharing it. I seem to be crying lots of tears of joy and as you said, feeling my mortality this season. God Bless You and your family. Thank you for all you do for us and our community.
I’ve cried so much this year too.
Lovely, thanks for sharing!
This is precisely why I love your blog: Sage advice, written with heart.
Thank you for sharing such special memories with us! What constitutes that feeling of family can transcend time and distance. You have made me think about the items that I have from my family that need to be sent to their new homes with other family members where they can be loved, honored and used.
Thank you for sharing, Roberta. You have such a thoughtful way of saying hard to say thinks. Love you,
Love you Bonnie.