“Well I guess I’ll sit where Hank and I sat for a while at church, then I’ll move over to the widows’ corner,” says Salley. Death has a way of reorganizing our thoughts, then our lives. After that, she spends time on the phone changing cable companies. One way to win an eternal dispute with a spouse is to wait until they make a break for the afterlife, then do what you wanted anyway.
We do what family does: arrive in droves of condolences, offers of help, and countless pounds of baked goods. Then we sort through the memories of a life well-lived, from decades of achievements to the idiosyncrasies of an individual to the cheese that expired five years ago but couldn’t be tossed. If ever you really want to know someone, clean out their fridge.
Then move into their garage, where generations of stories are kept in dusty boxes along with at least one petrified rat. Each box opened and explored told the story of man who explored every wonder this life had to offer. While we’d heard some of his favorites over a glass of rosé like a broken record, the best ones were found in the old scrapbooks, running trophies, and photographs of him battling squirrels with a high-powered water gun. Obviously, I have a thing or two to learn from this guy.
There were many thoughts that crossed my mind in the process, from concerns of hoarding (when his bride tossed out old food, he’d hide it in the garage for later use, which I can only assume is what killed the rat) to gratitude for the storage of keepsakes. For when we lose someone, we tend to wade into the gaping hole they’ve left in our daily lives, and forget how they filled them all these years. There was laughter and doting and surely, frustrations, but judging by the marathon medals, the years of military service as a navy captain, the furniture and cabins he built by hand, and how his love for his wife showed in every thing he did, not a single opportunity to live fully was missed. It was a rich life.
I want the same thing when I go. This was a blessed reminder of the impact of our choices. If I drive people crazy, may they at least laugh heartily about it when I am gone. If I schlepp boxes of memorabilia from home to home in my years, may they fill the blanks for my family and remind them that they, too, can do anything they damn well please. Also: Read. Read a lot. Read Mars and Venus in the Bedroom and read the 1962 Applied Physics texts. Read about birds, carpentry, psychology, and God.
But don’t keep old refrigerators around for someone else to move later. Or precariously prop miscellaneous debris onto shelves that require acrobatic planning and accident insurance to later retrieve. Do leave a trail of evidence of your adoration of your spouse, your pride for your children, and your devotion to country or kin. Do everything people say you can’t do, then gloat. Preferably in the form of some kind of tacky, framed decoration.
When Salley and Hank moved to New Mexico 20 years ago, he took two fledgling geraniums and began starts from their errant stems and blossoms. Each year, the house filled a little more with the bright red flowers until shelves and shelves of potted geraniums crowded the dining room, the walkways, the bedrooms. Their stems had become thick like trees, and still they bloomed and gave to new plants that he nurtured and nursed into their own pots. No room or view was left untouched. Just when it seemed there could not be space for another, a new shelf appeared and filled, green leaves toppling over the edges. The house was swelling with them. The memories he cultivated were no different, and like the flowers, will continue blooming.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at email@example.com
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