It all began one day some years ago, most likely prompted by my parents taking a look around at the sheer amount of stuff they’d accumulated and trying to figure out how in the hell they would divvy it among their four children in their will. Enter the infamous yellow stickie.
On a visit to my parents’ house – my childhood home – my mom asked me which of their possessions I would eventually want one day. What do you say to that? Do you have an immediate answer; something you’ve coveted your entire life? Do you look around for something that will elicit fond memories every time you see it? Do you laugh gleefully, rub your hands together cunningly and ask for everything?
She then handed me a yellow stickie pad and told me to write my name on a stickie and put it underneath the thing(s) I wanted. What?!
I always expected to one day inherit my childhood bedroom set – a beautiful, antique marble-topped three-piece oak set that had originally belonged to the Holmes family, the original settlers of my hometown, which my parents had bought at auction for a steal. And then there’s the Lionel train set that electrified us as kids and another generation when our kids were little (already earmarked for my brother). The Navajo rug hanging on the wall in the family room, bought directly from a Navajo trader they became friends with on their many trips out West in the ’60s. My dad’s IBM “Think” desk sign. So many memories, so many moments. I’d been blessed with one home as my foundation throughout my early life.
But there was one thing that I’d always loved in that house, besides the people. A Santa Clara wedding jug. I’d dusted it for years, carefully picking it up and dusting around it, and then gently putting it down again. It appeals to me in its simplicity of color and design, and in its quiet grace. I would put my yellow stickie on that in a heartbeat. And that’s all I would want. But my oldest sister wants it too and, though we joke about it all the time–that it will disappear one day without anybody noticing because we both still have keys to the house–the truth is that I’d never let a material thing get between us. I would give it up before I let that happen.
After all, as I’ve aged, I’ve found less and less satisfaction in objects and items. Mementos, while they may spark memories, are not the memories themselves. In the same way I try to take photos in my mind instead of seeing life through a lens every second of every day, I don’t need things to hang my happiness on. If I could jettison the material things in my life, I would.
What would I rather put that yellow stickie on?
The years of dinners around the kitchen table, with never a moment of silence and never a dull moment. I honed my sarcasm at that table, often aiming its sharp barb at my siblings’ boyfriends and girlfriends when they least expected it. We talked about everything at that table and my dad, who had no siblings, happily presided over it all. Even now he laments the fact we never taped those often-hysterical conversations.
The fireplace and all of the fall and winter nights spent in front of it, listening to Peter, Paul & Mary, Puff the Magic Dragon, Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, and the works of Tchaikovsky on my dad’s old reel-to-reel player while roasting marshmallows, playing quietly, reading or just soaking in the peace. The smell of a crackling wood fire still brings me comfort.
The backyard where my Queens-born dad taught us stickball because, “if you could hit a ball with a broom stick you could hit it with anything.” Where he and I and sometimes my brother would shoot hoops, the basketball always hitting one of the paver stones and going off on an angle instead of landing smoothly. The same paver stones that we’d helped our civil engineer father install one summer, using a level and string to make sure each and every one was perfectly positioned.
The roof that I’d helped him shingle and he still laughs about to this day because I tried to put them on flawlessly, painstakingly, even as the snow swirled around us. The trees that I climbed, except for my favorite one that they cut down years ago for fear it would fall on the house in the next bad storm.
The basement workshop where my dad set up a kids’ bench so that we could learn the basics as he worked on repairs and wood creations. This man, who several of my friends are still afraid of because he’d reprimand them for calling the house past 9 p.m., recited “pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been” to me while he worked and I hammered or just watched.
The sewing machine that my mother used to make quilts and party favors and Halloween costumes, while working full-time and juggling household responsibilities and the activities of four kids – a single parent during the week while my dad worked long hours and came home past our bedtimes.
The yellow stickie is more than inadequate to label the things that I want after my parents are gone… I already possess everything they’ve had to give.
©2015 Rachel L. MacAulay. All Rights Reserved.