Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tiny Treasures

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.


  1. I can't imagine a better outcome of your labors. How wonderful! And welcome home, dear woman. We have missed you and I am glad to know that all went well and that you had love and friendship and some fun while you were there.

  2. I love this post and am so happy your chores were happy ones, and not draining or emotionally exhausting. I love that you found the stamps and recognized their value. I have in my basement, my husband's childhood stamp collection, and that of his great uncle who passed it down to him. They are treasures.
    I'm glad you had so much fun while you were there, it sounds so relaxing and rejuvenating. And yes, how mysterious, and yet logical that early evidence of ourselves shows how little our personalities and tendencies change over the years. I learned from watching my children that their selves are mostly set from an early age, and yet I never saw myself so clearly.
    Welcome back, xo

  3. Oh, I'm so glad!

    And how funny about the stamp collecting. Your mother is such a fascinating person.

  4. Welcome home Angella, you were missed.
    What a great gift finding the stamp treasure trove and having a mystery solved and another aspect of your mother revealed to you. How funny not to have known about this passion of hers! I think it's a miracle and a lesson that we never fully know each other. It's refreshing to know there is always something to learn even from those closest to us.

    I love the photos you've posted especially the two of you and family at the airport. You were so adorable! I remember those days when the whole fam came to the airport for arrivals and departures.
    Welcome HOME!

  5. I am so very happy for you that this was not arduous and brought about a deeper appreciation of your parents and your relationships to husband and brother. That is a wonderful gift and thank you for sharing bits of it here.

  6. OMG. I opened this and was terrified that it had been up for days and I'd missed it. You are the person who taught me to really, really cherish pictures. Now with so many all around with the ease of digital photography that could be harder. Instead I cherish them even more. All of it is a journey.

  7. It's wonderful that your mother is still here and still able to share the story of the stamp collection with you. It might have been lost forever.

  8. It's great that you're learning things you never knew about your mom! As a fellow stamp collector, I'm glad you saw the value in her collection. It does make sense she'd be into stamps if she worked for the post office. I worry that kids nowadays won't appreciate stamps because snail mail is so -- well -- SLOW, and the world is no longer as large and mysterious as it once seemed.