to my Mom
So live your life that when you die,
even the undertaker will be sad.
I can give no greater tribute
to my Mom than this from my youngest son, Daniel, shortly after she died in January of
2001. Daniel is a toy collector, he has been
from his youth, and even writes a column for a toy collectors web site that he owns. The following was written for those who regularly
read his columns to explain his short absence from the group. My Mom would have sure been proud of him to hear
his words and I share them with you as a tribute.
I get my collecting bug
from my Grandma
I think collecting is genetic and like hair, loss it skips a generation. No one else in my family really had the zeal or
drive to collect things like my grandmother and me. Collecting
was the main thing my grandmother and I always had in common and I think she always kind
of looked to me to carry on in her absence.
She collected a lot of things, plates, antiques, and truth be told she kept just
about everything that passed through her hands. Not
in a scary, pack-rat, crazy cat lady or Dateline NBC
kind of way, Grandma was a VERY tidy person, you always knew that everything would be the
same on each visit, but she kept a running log of her life in the form of
She was a SHARP lady.
Fiercely independent, flexible; you never saw her unless she looked like a
million bucks. In the almost 30 years that I knew
her I never once saw her without her wig on. In
her whole life she never ONCE wore slacks to church; only long skirts or dresses.
She always told me that I was like her in spirit, and
depending on how old I was and how I looked at the time, she would go back and forth as to
whether I looked like my dad or my grandpa. I
had never met my grandfather. He died of a
heart attack when my father was 17. Grandma
never remarried. She lived alone in that
house for another 40 years. She always
said I had my grandfathers hands. That
always made me feel good, because she would hold my hands for a while and I always felt
like I was able to provide her some level of connection and comfort.
Picture taken in 2001 - age 91
I used to see movies with my Grandma. Id spend a full day with her a few times in
the summer, just her and me. And
thinking back on the movies we saw, I cant IMAGINE her having any interest in
but she did watch them with me and she was paying attention.
One of my all time favorite memories of my grandmother would have been in 1983. I talked her into taking me to see Return of the Jedi. I was probably seeing it for the 4th or
5th time at this point (because back in those days, kids, you HAD to go back to
the theater to see a movie! We didnt
have DVD players and it took 2 or more years from release for something to come out on
VHS). I cant say for sure if she had
seen any of the other Star Wars films, but I suspect I made her take me to see The Empire Strikes Back at least once. We were sitting in the theater watching
Jedi, and bear in mind, Grandma was in her 70s at this point, and were at the part
at the beginning at Jabbas palace, and the mysterious bounty hunter Boush is
sneaking up to the frozen block that is Han Solo, and Grandma turns to me and says
That one walks like a woman. WOW! That blew my 12-year-old mind! Grandma had figured out one of the big
surprises in the movie before the reveal. I
mean, I knew it was Princess Leia under there because I had already seen the movie a
couple of times. But I certainly didnt
figure that out on MY first viewing. I
remember sitting there in the theater thinking Wow.
Grandma is cool.
Cut to a few years ago:
Grandma was 91, well on her way to 92 and we had JUST convinced her to stop driving in
October. We knew something was affecting her
mind, but I never heard a name given to it. We
knew it was the early stages of Alzheimers, dementia, or just age catching up with
her. Her memory was slipping, she
couldnt smell things any more, her hearing was shot, and she had a lot of trouble
finding the words she was looking for when she talked.
She never got to a point where she didnt recognize any of us, but you could
tell the loss of her always sharp mind was starting to frustrate her. She always
had a mind for details: names, events, family
history, etc. so to lose that, both for her sense of pride in that and the family losing
all of that history
you just cant put words to that.
Grandma had an odd habit that drove most of the family
nuts! It always gave her a sense of comfort
to know where her collection, where her things would go after she was gone. She wanted them to be with people who appreciated
them. So, any time you would comment on
something in her house or even just pick it up and look at it, she would take a small
piece of white medical tape, write your name in blue ink and stick it to the bottom of
said item. That meant that when she was dead,
this item would go to you. This really drove
my parents crazy as I was growing up. They
just thought it was morbid and wanted no part of it. I was a kid and in the early stages
of my collecting disorder and all I knew was that Grandma was promising me
cool stuff. So, my name was all OVER that
place. Sometimes she didnt want to wait
until she was gone, she just needed more room in her house, or she was just looking to
simplify her life, and so she would send you home with another item that had your name on
it after each visit. It gave her comfort to give her things to people who would appreciate
them as much as she did, it gives me comfort to have those things now.
When I hear about families fighting about the estate of a relative that had passed I think
of Grandma and her medical tape and blue pen. Grim
as it might have been, Grandma was even sharper than we realized.
That October, she realized her limitations and agreed to
move into an assisted living center close to my folks.
They hired a moving company, and moved a lot of her furniture with her, but
as they were packing up, she didnt seem interested in taking very many of her
antique/collected things. She took several
significant pieces: a cup and saucer set her father had given her, a pitcher given to her
by her late husband, and a Styrofoam wig-stand that still has the word: GRAND-MA spelled
out in hat pins that I had snuck into her closet and made when I was 8 years old. Everything else she left behind in that house. That house her husband had helped build, that
house where she raised her kids, that house where
her husband... her soul mate died suddenly in his sleep, that house where she lived alone
more years than Ive been alive, that lonely house was now alone.
There was still a LOT of stuff in that house. On our way back from a family celebration on
Christmas Eve we stopped by the vacant house; my wife, my older brother, and I. We had been instructed to go through and see if
there was anything else we were interested in for the eventuality of either: a. Grandma passing or b. them selling the house. It didnt have the same feel this time. It was creepy, it was odd, and it made us feel
like grave robbers even though she was still alive.
Then we really started to get a sense of what all Grandma
collected. We saw history: her history, our familys, and our
countrys. Grandma was the keeper of a
chronicle over 100 years old. She kept toys,
clothes, magazines, and newspapers. She kept
almost every piece of personal correspondence, from her 5th grade valentines to
the get well cards she died surrounded by. She had sheet music, magazines and
newspapers from the turn of the century. She
had fascinating items that belonged to her parents. She
had many of her childhood dolls, my aunts childhood dolls, she had touchstones of
any memory she wanted to go back and revisit.
That year in December 2001, Grandma had a stroke. It was a serious one that left her paralyzed on
her left side and unable to swallow. She
had a DNR order, so according to her wishes there was nothing we could do for her at that
point. We just had to make sure she was
comfortable as we waited for the inevitable. She
died on the 18th, and we buried her on Monday.
We went to a viewing of her body, just the family. My dad, her sons family, and my aunt, her
daughters family. Her family. I hadnt seen many of my cousins in 10 years,
some more. I had never been to a viewing
before and didnt really know what to expect. I
remember there was some discussion that she was going to be buried without her glasses
because no one had thought of that detail. Everyone
agreed that it would have been nice to remember to grab a pair from her house, but she
really didnt need them at this point.
we discovered the drawer. I loved the drawer.
As the top of the casket was open, in the side of the bottom lid there was a
drawer. I guess you are supposed to put
keepsakes or notes or something in there. I
just remembered the jokes everyone was making about what to put in there. I still laugh when I think of my aunt saying
I guess we could put a deck of cards in there.
Had I know the drawer was in there
I probably would have put a
Boush action figure in there. So Grandma
would always know I thought she was cool.
Then my family was faced with the task of unraveling her
collection. Most of her things she had
labeled with when she got them, how old they were and who or where she got them from. We also found things like a box full of old BIC
pen caps and the lid to every medicine bottle shed ever opened along with her more
elegant, extensive collections of antiques, plates, butter dishes and the like. My family thinks this is odd, but I know exactly
where that comes from. And from here on out,
every time I pick up some figure by Trendmasters or some odd thing in a line I dont
collect or any time I hesitate throwing away the package or lame accessory to a figure I
have opened, Ill know why that impulse is deeply rooted within me.
In going through Grandmas things I also found many
clippings, letters, and articles from 1895 to 1960s.
Some were from small town news, some were from large companies from New
York, and many we dont know where they were from. We just know that she liked them
enough to save them all this time. The one
through-line of all of these scraps of her history, is that they all contain a sense of
poetry that you no longer find in letter writing or news reporting. Even the obituaries were something you could tell
was extensively researched and you could tell someone spent a lot of time and thought. I think thats what this essay is. Its an attempt to give her the obituary she
deserved, from someone that loved her dearly.
and let the mighty forces come to your aid - Goethe