While I was in California my stepmother told me that I should start telling her and my dad now which of their many possessions I’d like to have “after they’re gone.”  This is weird to me because I remember when my mother was dying, she started asking each of us what things of hers we wanted to have, and that was very painful because she only had two weeks to live and I didn’t want any of her things, I just wanted her to keep living.  My mother was not a woman of many possessions, anyway.  Or rather, she was a woman of many temporary possessions, not the sort of things one usually bequeaths to anyone else.  My parents’ life together was one of looking forward to the day when they would have more money (or fewer liabilities) and more time (or fewer responsibilities), and finally be able to get something nice and go someplace exciting.  My father actually went to a lot of exciting places on business—Europe, Russia, Japan, Hawaii, who knows where else—but it was not usually practical for my mother to go with him.  She did accompany him to a conference in Boston once.  That might have been the only trip they took together (alone) since their honeymoon.  It’s ironic, in the Alannis Morrisette sense, that just as they were on the cusp of empty-nestdom, she should leave the nest herself.  Wherever she is now, I reckon it’s at least as nice as Hawaii, but I think my dad still wishes in retrospect that he had taken her to Hawaii when he had the chance. 

 

My dad is well aware of the opportunities he missed with his first wife, so he hasn’t made the same mistakes with the second one.  Of course it helps that he has more money and all that et cetera, but still, he’s learned his lesson.  Also, my step-mother isn’t shy about telling him what she wants.  Or what she doesn’t want—but she only tells him about that after he’s already given it to her.  And then she tells anyone else who will listen about how much she doesn’t like it and why on earth would he buy such a thing for her.  It’s a bit hard to take because a) despite his documented shortcomings, my father is very thoughtful about gifts—even if it isn’t what you wanted, he sure has a lot of reasons why he thought you’d like it, and b) my mother never got anything as nice as the stuff Dad buys for Step-mother.

 

Step-mother is a wonderful woman in many regards, but she could use some work in the graciousness department.  I don’t claim to be a paragon of this virtue myself, but I do know that if my husband bought me a piece of jewelry that he thought I’d like, I’d suck it up and wear it.  At the very least I would refrain from calling it “tacky.”  While we were there last week, I got to see my father at his wit’s end, trying to explain to his wife that the earrings made from diamond chips he gave her for their tenth anniversary really were diamonds.

 

“I don’t see how they’re any different from cubic zirconium,” she said.

 

“Because they’re diamonds!  They’re 100 percent diamonds, made from carbon!  Cubic zirconium has zirconium in it!”

 

“So I have genuine fake diamonds?”

 

“You have genuine REAL DIAMONDS!  And they weren’t cheap, either!”

 

That’s when I told her that if she didn’t want her genuine fake diamonds, I would gladly take them.  Only I’d pass them off as real.  Then everybody laughed.  Which was good, because I was about to punch her.  Also, I don’t have pierced ears, so a fat lot of good genuine diamond earrings would have done me.  Maybe I could have bequeathed them to somebody.

 

Which brings me back to my original subject.  My mother had no jewelry to speak of, aside from her wedding ring, which she was buried with.  It was a simple white-gold band, just like my father’s.  My dad remembers that they bought the set at Monkey Wards for $65.  It’s a sweet story, I think, but that’s neither here nor there.  She also had no china, fine or otherwise.  I think she used the same white Corelle dishes for the first twenty years she was married.  Then she bought some dinnerware with a country goose theme.  This was after she decided that she was going to be into geese.  She bought some goose glasses to go with them, but quite a few of them broke.  She couldn’t find the same pattern anymore, so she bought some slightly different goose glasses to replace the broken ones.  A lot of those broke, too.  I inherited the lone surviving goose glass a couple years ago.  It has since broken.  I wasn’t too torn up about it, though, because I’d also inherited the goose dishes and the goose salt-and-pepper shakers, which are packed away like they were fine china, and not just some country kitchenware that isn’t my particularly my style.  I have naught against geese, country or otherwise.  I just have my own dishes that I registered for at Target ten years ago, and I hardly ever use those, either.  We prefer Spiderman and Barbie plates at our house.

 

I also have my mother’s old melamine serving platter.  It’s yellow-green and too thin and thus has a crack in it.  I don’t use it anymore.  It’s entirely useless, and not valuable.  It’s not even attractive.  I keep it because it was my mother’s, just like I keep her old reading glasses, which she may very well have bought at the Pic’n’Save, for all I know.  They are in the same cheesy glasses case I made her for Mother’s Day in my eighth-grade home ec class.  It’s one of those plastic-grid needlework crafts, a yellow flower with a white background.  It is, of course, filthy.  It’s been filthy since a week after Mother’s Day twenty-three years ago.  Good Lord, twenty-three years.  The glasses and the case are in the bottom of my temple bag because the last time I went to the temple with my mother, she had me carry some of her stuff in there.  Sometime after she died I cleaned out my temple bag and found them, and I just left them there.  Where else would I keep them?

 

What’s left at my parents’ house is a whole lot of pretty nice stuff I don’t want.  What I want is the crap stuff I grew up with.  I want the Keane paintings my mother bought in a garage when she was still young and single.  They aren’t worth anything and I reckon my husband would sooner die than have them on his walls—but they are integral images of my childhood, and therefore they appeal to me.  They are both night scenes.  One is of a lone little blond girl sitting on a step of a long staircase in the moonlight.  The other is of a young woman on a busy street.  In each picture the subject is staring straight at you with their giant eyes.  Yes, it is creepy and weird.  (This was before Margaret Keane became a Jehovah’s Witness and started painting happy pictures.)  My mother bought the woman-on-the-street picture because it reminded her of herself—a young single woman on her own.  She even looks like my mother did in those days (at least as much as anything Keane painted could look like a human).  In the background there’s a sketchy image of a man who looks like the young version of my Dad.  To us that gave the painting a sort of mystical quality, since my mother was years away from meeting Dad when she bought it.  Dude, her destiny was right there in the freaking painting, and she had no idea!  My brother has that painting.  I suppose it’s appropriate, since he’s the only single one left among us.  Maybe he’ll meet a blond woman with giant eyes someday, and their kids will be similarly impressed by the magic painting that can tell the future.

 

After my mother died, everything she owned became a holy relic to me.  There was so little, materially speaking, to remember her by.  She hated having her picture taken because she hated how fat she looked, so we have very few pictures of her.  Most of the things she had were not meant to last.  They were meant to be used until they could be replaced with something better.  This is why I still have Post-It notes that my mother wrote on.  Stuff that should have been thrown away a long time ago has taken on ridiculous significance simply because I know there will be no more of it.  It will never be replaced with something better. 

I suppose this is the legacy my mother left me, that I can live with not having the best of everything—but also that I won’t have forever to do what I mean to do.  As much as possible, the doing should be done now.  It shouldn’t be saved for later.

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