Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Question for Today

What was your treasure?

My friend, SS, is involved in the sad task of going through her deceased grandmother's things. Having been there myself, I thought about that odd mix of feelings during such a task.

It feels like an odd invasion of their privacy even though they've gone on to better adventures.

This feeling hit me particularly hard when I went through my mother's bedroom (the only room in which I had an opportunity to do this, long story). Going through her dresser was the worst. As I opened drawer after drawer full of clothing, bits of jewelry, assorted mementos, and whatnot, I kept waiting for the slap I got when I invaded these same spaces as a nosy kid. I found a book of poetry and essays she'd written decades before, and I have yet to examine them. It's like reading her diary, and maybe there are things in there she didn't want her kids to know. If it wasn't my business then, why is it my business now?

"One man's trash is another man's treasure," or something like that. Now you've suddenly become the judge of what's treasure-worthy, trash-worthy, or useful enough for someone else to treasure. Your brain categorizes, keep it, give it away, throw it out. Who am I to judge all this stuff she felt important enough to keep, not give away and not throw out?

Before this post gets too depressing, the lighter side is finding something totally wonderful and unexpected, like the unidentifiable clay sculpture you gave her for Mother's Day or a letter you wrote from camp. It's wonderful to think that your handiwork is something somebody considered a treasure to keep.

My grandmother saved all the letters my grandfather wrote to her during their courtship. My sister saved notes she passed to her friends in high school, and the chain of bubble gum wrappers that she made in her preteens. It was several feet long. In addition to the usual mass cards that you get from funerals, my mom saved rosebuds from her grandmother's funeral (45 years ago), carefully drying them and placing each in its own tiny plastic box that once held sewing notions, complete with a slip of paper describing where they're from. I'm tempted to open one, but I'm afraid the flower will turn to dust if I do. (Hey, sis, I have two if you want one.) My uncle saved tons of junk, the most curious being a good-sized box of beer-bottle caps.

What was your treasure? What was that wonderful, sweet, or curious thing you uncovered in someone's left-behind life that you never would have expected them to save and preserve?

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