Sunday, August 4, 2013
My husband and I arrived home last night after a week in St. Lucia with my brother. We spent the days fielding estimates from contractors, upholsterers, stagers and real estate agents, all in the name of getting my mother's house ready to be rented. The whole roof of the house will need to be replaced, the bathrooms refurbished, the wall paper removed, the carpeting in the bedrooms pulled up and replaced with tiles, the furniture reupholstered, everything plastered and painted anew, then arranged and staged for rental.
The packing up of our parents personal effects wasn't nearly so wrenching as I imagined it would be. And of course, my brother was there, and he likes to mix in the fun. So in the evenings after the work was done, we'd head out to the strip for dinner, or karaoke, or drinks at the hotel around the corner where we'd sit beachside sipping margaritas or amaretto sours as we checked our messages on their internet. I was glad my husband was there with me. He and my brother get along famously, full of banter and joking. It made the task at hand less arduous, much more of a communion. Some nights, exhausted from the day's labor, I would send the men off on their own and gratefully climb into bed with my book, relishing the expansive comfort of my mother's house before the coming changes.
Going through our parents papers and photographs and artifacts felt more like an honoring of the two who raised us, a peek behind the curtain of what we knew of them. There were some surprises, chief among them my mother's extraordinary stamp collection, dating back to her childhood, with pristine first day covers and correspondence with people from all corners of the globe, old stamps affixed to the envelopes, presentation albums from places as far flung as New Zealand and Cameroon, and as close to home as Jamaica and St. Kitts, and we didn't even know she was a collector, let alone an ardent one her whole life!
Finding these tiny treasures everywhere, in boxes labeled in my father's distinctive hand, in envelopes tucked in drawers for later sorting, or carefully put away in cabinets, we were confused. Who was the collector, we initially wondered, our father or our mother? And how was it they had never mentioned what was clearly an enduring passion. I called my mom, who confirmed she was indeed the collector. She almost cried when she understood that we had not tossed her stamps, that we recognized the loving hand that had curated them, and were gathering them together for safekeeping. My mother, speaking to us from Jamaica said, "I sat here worrying that you would find these things and not recognize their value. It eases my heart, you have no idea how, to know my stamps will continue to be loved. I am glad now that I never gave or sold them away."
There was one red album, among all the albums, that I recognized as mine from when I was 10 or 11 years old, the stamps lined up in so painstaking a manner I could see my OCD had been present even then. How was it, during the brief time I collected stamps of my own, that my mother never mentioned her own passion. Now that I was asking, she began telling me stories of walking to the post office in the rain as a child and counting out her saved pennies for a new first day cover. Come to think of it, my mother's first job was as a post mistress in Spanish Town. It makes sense now. That was where my father met her when he was working as a clerk of the courts there.
It was in such small ways that this week of sorting and tossing and keeping and cherishing filled in the details of my parents' life together. It was sacred work, in the end, and it brought my brother and me closer than ever, both of us so completely aware of the privilege of having been parented by these two souls. Rather than hollowing me out, as I though this week would, the curating my parents' possessions left me feeling filled up with gratitude and wonder and love.