August 27th would have been my mother’s 99th birthday. I didn’t post anything anywhere about it, but I thought about it a lot. She died in 2007 a little more than a month after her 90th birthday. Thinking about the time of her passing refreshed my intentions to write a memoir. My parents were not much for telling stories on themselves or about their growing-up, so I had decided to write down as much I could remember of things they’d said, so that I and my siblings and their families would have at least a bit of a record of family history.
I still have a lot to write, but I decided to post the opening of it, since the incident is what prompted me to write the memoir.
It was just a sales receipt and I nearly threw it out.
Thanksgiving Week in 2007 marked a gathering of my siblings. We had not been all together in one place since 1991, when my father had died. I lived in Los Angeles, my brother David lived in the Philadelphia area, my sister Charlotte lived north of Detroit, while my sister Joan lived in Houston. Indeed, in the recent years, Joan and her family had been living with Mom, taking care of her.
But Mom had passed away at the end of September. When we had gathered for the funeral, there was no time – and certainly no energy – to tackle the task of clearing Mom’s house. We decided to return Thanksgiving Week, since David and I could get the extra days off work before the holiday.
We are a family of pack-rats, but Mom’s practice of it had gotten excessive in her later years. Perhaps that was understandable, as she had reached the age of 90 and toward the end been afflicted with a mild degree of dementia. It would have been difficult for her to cope with the sudden removal of so much of her surroundings while she was alive. Thus it was that we were faced with the task of sorting through everything during that holiday week.
And it was necessary to sort through every single pile. Mom had the habit of making piles which could include junk mail and important documents, even envelopes of cash, all mixed together. We couldn’t just pick up a pile and toss it out. We had to look at every piece of paper.
So there I sat, looking at this sales receipt. I almost threw it out, but looked at it again. It was from a local jeweler, and had been folded up with a smallish note card. The receipt was for a necklace of jade beads, costing (if I recall correctly) about $170.
In her later years, Mom liked to wear those beads for special occasions. They were new to her collection since I had moved to Los Angeles, but I had noticed them during a visit to Houston I had made around 2003 and in photos Joan would send to me from time to time.
I looked at the note card, and suddenly realized that the jade necklace had been an anniversary present from Dad to Mom. In fact, the last anniversary present he had purchased for her.
That realization was powerful enough, but what really struck me was that in the note card, Dad addressed Mom as my darling.
So simple. So direct. After nearly 50 years together, for my father that was still his first choice of addressing his wife.
The illustration attached here is the cover I intend for the memoir. The photo is one I took of my parents when we still lived in Michigan. It’s my favorite of the ones I took. And those are the jade beads mentioned in the passage above.