This month marks the one-year anniversary of my father’s death.
My father was creeping up on 89 years old when he breathed his last. His health and mobility had declined dramatically over a period of less than two years. I can’t be sure, but I think he was ready to go.
I don’t have much in the way of fatherly memorabilia. But most of his stuff remains in the house his widow still occupies; maybe I’ll be able to pick something up.
On several occasions I’ve had to rummage through the personal effects of someone who recently died, and been encouraged to choose something as a keepsake. Sifting through a lifetime’s worth of someone’s stuff: what a strange experience. Once was for my paternal grandmother, and the other my maternal grandfather - oddly symmetrical, it seems.
From my grandfather’s stuff, I chose an old union booklet. This struck some as a little peculiar, but it had, and still has, an odd value to me. He belonged to the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. His dues were all paid up.
A few years later I came into possession of one of his awls. I’m not a carpenter, but it’s perfect for rounding out the inside of brake and shifter cable housing on bikes. They compress when cut.
What about my dad?
There was no great purge of worldly possessions (at least, not when I was around). There isn’t much I want, frankly.
I already value a slip of paper I found tucked into one of my books (Ironweed). I must have shoved it in there as a bookmark once, during a visit. It is a most trivial thing: my dad’s grocery list from four or five years ago. But it means something to me, perhaps because it is so commonplace.
The physical objects our forebears leave behind may serve as memory triggers, but far more important is how they’re imprinted on our psyches. For most of us, our parents are encoded into our brains. We carry them in our heads, cradle to grave – and that is what matters most.