The Keepsake I Don’t Have

If I could go back and change one thing, I would change what I chose from my Grandmother’s house after she died.

My maternal grandma, Grandma Jo, passed away from Alzheimer’s in January of 2001. After she passed and my mom and her sisters had gone through her things, the grandkids were allowed to go through before they had the estate sale.

It was the first time in a few years I had even been in my grandma’s house; she had been in nursing homes for some time. Nothing was where it should be. Everything was spread out because it had all been appraised and tagged for sale. My Grandma Jo was something of a pack rat.

Ok, she was totally a hoarder. The woman had lived through the Depression as a kid; she had lived on welfare after divorcing her useless husband. “Waste not, want now” was her motto. In fact, my mom often tells stories of having to wash bread bags so they could reuse them.

Her deep freeze was full. She lived alone.

We found jugs of prune juice that she had gotten from the welfare store when my mom was a kid.

She really never got rid of anything.

But that was also always the wonder of her house. She had so many interesting things packed away. As kids there were endless things to discover. Bur after she died, it was all hauled out into the open. How would I know where to start looking for anything? I hadn’t even thought about what I would want.

Almost 15 years later, I know exactly what I should have taken.

The holidays always remind me of my Grandma Jo. She is forever woven into Christmas for me: I hear her voice in Christmas carols, I taste her baking in the treats, I smell her perfume in church, I see her in the big, multi-colored lights on my Christmas tree.

On a Sunday after dinner, all my cousins, brothers, and I would get to help her decorate her way-too-fat-for-the-room Christmas tree. We danced around excitedly as she brought down boxes and boxes of ornaments, lights, and garland. An adult would string the lights–always multi-colored, mismatched, and tacky–and then wrap the tree in garland. Then it was our turn.

The first box would lose its lid and reveal balls and balls of napkins in which ornaments were hidden. Some fragile and antique, but most handmade and quite gaudy.

Oh they were wonderfully terrible! We would each open a napkin as if unwrapping a precious jewel and hold it high for everyone to see before placing it on the tree.

Grandma would get out other decorations too.

The one that I wish I had been able to get was by far my favorite. It was Christmas to me. Once Grandma had it out, it was Christmas. That was it.

It was a white plastic church that plugged into the wall. When switched on, a single clear Christmas light bulb illuminated the church, which had one stained glass (plastic) window. But the best part of this church? You could turn a small crank on the back to have it play “Silent Night”.

Every single Sunday leading up to Christmas I would crank that church. Christmas Even I would crank it many times until my mom told me to leave it alone.

What I wouldn’t give to have that plastic church.

I think of it every single Christmas and wish for my Grandma.

I bake all the treats she made. I decorate my tree in the tackiest way possible. I sing the Christmas carols. I put an orange in the toe of my kids’ stockings like she did for ours.

I don’t need the church to know she’s here, but I sure do miss her.


Cortney and I have wonderful memories with all of our grandparents. I have gotten to listen to stories about camping trips with Cort’s maternal grandparents and Christmas’s with his paternal grandparents.Since we have been married, we lost both of Cortney’s grandfathers. Both deaths were very hard on our family because the men were such huge influences on Cortney’s life.

I have fond memories of my Grandma Jo. She was my mom’s mom and she taught me so much about being a kind, generous, strong woman. She was also hilariously fun and never shied away from a challenge. Including having me, my two brothers, and our five cousins all over for a weekend while our parents went skiing.

My paternal grandparents live across the street from an elementary school and I can remember them taking us there to play. I also have the best memories of my Grandma R reading me fairy tales from a book she has since given to me. It is big and old and falling apart. The pages are yellowy brown. It has been taped by ancient masking tape hundreds of times. These stories inspired me to want to tell stories too.

I could go on and on about our grandparents, but those are different posts.

Today I have been thinking about my parents and Cortney’s parents and the relationships they have been building with our kids.

We are so lucky to live within miles of both of our parents. Our kids have grown up seeing them often, and they never hesitate to babysit for us.

They build wonderful memories.

I can only hope that our parents live long lives so that our children get to have years and years of memories with them.

I also think about how they will never have memories of their Papa Steve, who died four years before Eddie was born. It’s hard for me to not wonder what memories they would be making with him.

One thing I know for sure is that our parents are the best grandparents in the world for our children. They love them unconditionally and spoil them the way grandparents should spoil their grandchildren–the way they never ever would have spoiled their own children!

loved from the start

You know those picture slideshows they put on repeat at high school graduation open houses, funerals. wedding receptions, funeral visitations, anniversary parties, retirement parties, any gathering that celebrates someone’s life?

That is what it looks like behind my eyes when I try to think of my first memory.

It shuffles through stills of settings and objects from the first house I ever lived in, which means I was somewhere between 2 and 3 when I started “remembering”.

Gold carpeting. Sitting under the blond wood of our dinner table.  A stool with a handmade cover in a corner for timeouts.  Pink milk from the neighbor lady.  A pretty purple room.  My Raggedy Ann doll.  The nursery with an ABC theme.  The Muppet Show with my dad.

We moved from that house when I was 3 years old.  Eddie’s age.

Yet, I remember it.

my little brother Chris and me when we were Charlie and Eddie’s ages.

I’ve searched old photos for the things that reside in my mind, but have not found many of them.

I’ve asked my mom what rooms in that house looked like and was rewarded with descriptions I was already vaguely aware of.

I realized that my first memories are of things. Not people.  Not events.  Not relationships.

For instance, I remember watching The Muppet Show with my dad.  I don’t actually remember sitting with my dad, though.  I just know it was with him and not anyone else, though I don’t know how I know that.

All of this makes me wonder…what about our house…our life…is Eddie’s little mind going to cling to and manifest as his “first” memory?

I don’t remember my brother being born when I was 2 1/2 (the same age Eddie was when Charlie was born), but I do remember the nursery being his.  It was mine first, but I don’t remember it as “mine”.

Will Eddie think of the green walls and jungle animals and always associate it as Charlie’s?  Despite the two years it was his?  Despite all the time he spent with me an his daddy rocking in that very room?

I don’t remember eating at our kitchen table or my mom cooking, but I do remember sitting under the table for whatever reason.

Will Eddie remember our high top kitchen table and his own place mat?  Or will he only remember things that were eye-level?

Will he remember running up and down the hall at top speed? Or will he only remember the end of the hall where he was sent to time out?

Will he remember wrestling and “pig piling” on the living room floor?

Will he remember the “toy room” downstairs?

Will any piece of our furniture stick in his mind?

What about his Big Boy room?  Will he remember the colors? The monkey theme?  The rock star stuff that he loves so much?  How particular toys sit? Maybe he will remember how he asked daddy to take the giant bear out of the room because it was “spooky”.

Cort and I don’t plan on this being our forever home, but we are not anywhere NEAR ready to move anywhere.  Maybe being here longer will make the house and it’s contents stick in the boys’ memories better.

All I know is this:

I hope they remember the laughter, not the tears…

…the smiles not the arguments…

…what it felt like to laugh so hard they were gasping for air…

…that if they called, we came…

…the spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen…

…forgetting our indoor voices as we sing ridiculous songs at the top of our lungs…

…”bothering” daddy because it’s funny to get him to giggle when he is tired…

…laughing at toots…

…dinner table questions about what heaven is like and why people poop…

Eddie and Charlie showing me how they dance.

I don’t remember much from being 3 years old, but I am sure the house I remember was filled with love and smiles.

I consider myself lucky to be able to say, “my first memory is of being loved.”

I hope that is what my boys can say too.  That as far back as they can remember, they were loved.


This post is linked with Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop.