We first bagged those things that made my mother appear familiar. It was a logical place to begin. Her clothing was nearest the door. Discarding and donating the clothes of a dead woman has its ghosts.
Shirts so favored that they whispered Mother. Nicer things, unworn, waiting until she moved to a better place. Into the bags and the boxes went those trappings that she chose most often or never at all. I took no garments from the growing pile to remind myself of her. Kept was a spare umbrella for the car, a practical thing that I had never seen her use.
I did not read lipstick color names before the tubes were tossed into the trash. Seeking details on strangers’ lives is my work, yet I prefer that those brands and colors remain a mystery. Perhaps I am avoiding future disappointment should I find them one day and not recognize her there.
With this unsavory task came several realizations.
I am now the generation making decisions future generations will never understand.
How many before me had carefully or carelessly chosen, shared, given, burned, discarded, and otherwise erased the earthly trappings of one who had passed? I am not alone.
We are charged with finding bits that will carry down through future generations. One keepsake here. An object there. Soon the possessions which I believe best represent this woman, whose picture I could not otherwise paint, will become so scattered that none would recognize her, nor know her lipstick color.
Artifacts passed through generations sometimes reflect the person who first saved them more than they represent their original owner.
This is what we, as genealogists, must absorb.
Great-grandfather’s pocket watch. The family Bible. A tintype. Poems, written by a lantern’s dancing light. Cherished tokens, gathered over the years, given by family members without space in their homes or in their hearts, are objects both wonderful and maddening.
Because we know there was more.
Holding a locket of an ancestor’s hair is dear, but hearing the voice of the person whose head it adorned is what we really desire.
Cherished tokens are only bits from a fuller life, salvaged by a person forced to decide which pile to go through first, and which one to save for last.