Of late, there’s been a good deal of Spring Cleaning going on around here. We’re finishing off a little reno, so tidying all that up has spurned some sorting. Yesterday I sat in a chair in the sun (quiet duties for me, so soon after getting out of hospital) while my hubster photographed things for an auction site. We’re culling. It feels good.
It’s our first real clear out since we moved here six years ago. It’s good to let go. Even better to find treasures you didn’t know were even there.
In the garage, he found a box.
“Honey, can you check out this box? It needs to be sorted; is it a keeper?”.
The box is lurid seventies green. I remember Mum kept her sewing patterns in boxes like that. Surely they’re not still in there? When I open the box, I see that it is only about a quarter full. No patterns. I see the kodak imprint on the back of some snapshots, a packet of lace coasters, a journal, a folio clad with swirls of purple, orange and green vinyl. It seems familiar, yet not my own. Where have I seen that stuff before?
I reach for the photos first. Pictures of me that my Mum used to have. I see myself at various ages. It’s confronting, seeing that vital girl. The sophisticated graduate. And comparing those selves to the sick me I now am. I put the photos down.
My school reports. A smattering of them from across the years. “Rachel is an excellent student with a mature attitude to learning” (aged 8) alongside “Rachel is easily distracted and would do well to focus on the matter at hand. Aim higher” (aged 15).
This must be a box of things Dad gave me after Mum passed away. Things my Mum left. I remember vaguely, putting the box he gave me out of sight. It was too hard, back then.
The kids and I laugh at my school report that shows a string of As and one D.
“What does Grade: D Effort: 3, mean, Mum?”
“Experiencing Difficulties and Attitude needs Improvement”
“Mu-uum! What was that for?”
My daughter looks at me with a grin on her face. Her own frustrations on the sports field suddenly making sense, “Oh!”
The box contained some of the cards I had made Mum over time. Even a letter I sent her from Germany when I was working there as an Au Pair. I didn’t know she had kept these things.
The journal was her own. A journey through her life during the times she lived in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing. Then some sad entries about the time back in New Zealand before it all picked up for them again. I looked at the loops of her handwriting, so similar to my own. I tried to hear her voice talking the words. I could only see her eyes, crinkling up into a smile. I was holding another fragment of her life, like her cup, both so absurdly present even though she can’t be. And yet, there she is, a breath away. Her perfume in the air and her remembrances in my hands.
I reach for that folio.
Long after my Grandma passed away, Mum would speak of a folio, a special folder that carried the things my Grandma held dear. Snippets from newspapers, poems and scriptures. Little things she found or noticed that spoke to her. My Grandma was a soulful person who carried a deep faith. My Mum shared the same faith and often spoke sadly about the missing binder that held so many of the writings that inspired her own Mother. After Grandma passed, my Mum thought her sister had the folder. She urged me to find it. After her sister passed too, I did ask after it. But her daughter hadn’t seen it anywhere. It was a mystery. It seemed to be lost, like that whole generation of girls.
Until yesterday, when it was found, in our own garage, tucked away in a green box.
I wish I could give it to Mum. She must have had it all along and not realised she did. I wish I could travel back through time and show her. I think of my sister and my cousins, I must tell them it is here.
I turned the pages carefully. Looking at the things that helped my Grandma through her most difficult days. I could see a familiar interest in finding the words to carry you. I do the same in my search for quotes and excerpts that say important things; in striving to find my own words. This deep connection with words must be part of my Grandma’s legacy.
I thought again, about handwriting. About the words we make, the words we keep. The way my Grandma, my Mum and I stored words for inspiration. Used words to make sense of life. Wrote words to excise the pain. I thought about how Grandma’s collected words could still speak to me, long after she is gone. Even though I never really knew her. It made me feel better about my own. My own legacy. Maybe my Grand-daughter will read these words one day and understand that I love her, even though I haven’t met her yet. That she is me, carried forward, just as I am the women before me, carrying on.