Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What we leave behind ...

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts.
And we are never ever the same.

As everyone was going through my in-laws' things at Great G's home, she looked at the boxes and piles left behind by her daughter and son-in-law wistfully. Without moving her gaze, she told me "It's amazing, isn't it? The whole of two people's lives, now just a pile of stuff to go through." I think she was really feeling the loss at that time, because of course, we are more than just the stuff we leave behind. So much more.

Sometimes, we don't even know the things we "leave behind" with others we meet in this lifetime. I know I've been surprised on occasion when someone from my past has kindly shared something they remember about me, maybe something I taught them, or something that inspired them. We don't always know the impact we have on those we touch. We may not give the moment a second thought, but we're always touching others in this life.

My ex-husband is known in the family for being an excellent cook. As we were all talking and sorting at Great G's, he told us that people often ask him how he learned how to cook Mexican food so well. "From my ex-wife's mom," he said. I spun round to look at him. Really? Yes, really. Apparently, he still makes handmade tortillas, mixing the dough, letting it rest, rolling, patting and stretching the tortillas ... just like my mom. (As kids, we'd usually take turns getting the last tortilla, which was usually a little smaller than the others.) And from-scratch beans, complete with the bacon fat ... just like my mom. And Mom's tacos, with ground beef, potato and cumin. And tamales at Christmas even! (He's Scotch-Irish, not a drop of Latino in him.) I very rarely make these dishes! Surprised, yes. And also deeply touched, very deeply touched that he thought of my mom whenever he made these things, remembering how she did them, and remembering the times when he and I were young, idealistic, hippie, married kids, barely 20, a different lifetime ago. I had no idea. It was a gift to think that someone is making Mom's dishes ... and a huge surprise that it would be my ex-husband.

One of the big finds as we sorted were Phebe's journals. She kept journals throughout her lifetime. We all giggled as my niece read from her wedding journal, writing about how certain evenings were "very lovely" ... cue the camera to pan to ocean waves crashing on the beach. No details on those evenings (thank goodness!), just the cryptic "very lovely" to leave the rest to the imagination. Other entries were so very dear and so very sweet; a beautiful love story told in those journals.

And then there were the letters. Lots of them, piled, beribboned, bound together, boxed. Do you keep letters? Do you write them, hand-write them? When I was a kid, we wrote letters. I miss them. I miss the excitement of gathering that white envelope (sometimes with a heart or XOXOX on the back) from the mailbox and quickly checking who sent it, the return address neatly written in the upper left corner, not a label. I remember the anticipation when I'd receive a letter from my cousins in El Paso, filled with all the chatty tidbits from a household of four girly daughters. Some years ago, I had a friend who moved to Hawaii; his letters included fun little drawings of him swimming with turtles or palm trees waving in the wind. Another friend used to draw little cartoons.

Mom was a consistent letter writer when we were young. Her handwriting was beautiful, the letters curved just right, her capital R (for my name) open at the top, the straight left leg slightly angled forward and gracefully flowing down to the right leg in a curvy S shape. Each letter flowed gently as it linked to the next in each word. Her writing was the most beautiful I've ever seen. An aunt in New Mexico had writing that was not as neat and took some time to decipher exactly what she wrote, but it was always worth the effort. Mom always wrote on nearly transparent, very light onionskin. The onionskin letter pads came with a lined template that one could slip under the onionskin to guide the writer's hand and keep the lines straight. Mom, with her meticulous writing, never needed it, but if I happened to use onionskin instead of some colorful paper, I always found it helpful.

Now, very few letters arrive in my mailbox. Cards are always welcome, though, and lift my heart with delight when I spy them amongst the junk mail and bills. I keep many of them, with their words of love, encouragement, celebration. I'm lucky to have some with my mom's beautiful handwriting, others with my dad's clear, neat, smaller penmanship, and still others from my brothers with especially meaningful messages. (One says that I'm his "hero.") I've saved letters from my daughter when she was away on a school trip or on a church retreat. She often copied Psalms passages for me, little gifts of encouragement for a single mom struggling each day. I treasure the cards that my granddaughters make for me, with their drawings and things glued on. (There's one from Jas with a plastic turtle - my power animal - on it.) Many of them are bound, beribboned and boxed.

Some day, someone may go through them and think of my life and what I've left behind.


PixieDust said...

Oh, Rose, this was so moving... tomorrow is my father's birthday, he passed away many years ago but I have scraps of papers with his writing on it stuffed into his bible by my bed.

It is good to remember what is left, and what everyone has given us.

Love to you,

TechGoddess said...

And we are all so much better for the life you are and the small pieces you have given to us.

Thank you.

paintergal said...

What a tribute your ex paid to your mother. How sweet that he remembers the way she taught him to cook.

I have very few hand written notes from my father and cherish each one. One is a silly story that he co-wrote with Clint when he was about three years old. It's a treasure.

Cindy said...

Lovely Rose. Thank you for this!

Caroline said...

What a beautiful post! I don't often think about what kind of impression I leave on others. I actually think that I don't leave one. But I know it's not true...I do hope that I leave love and light... Oh and letters *sigh* how wonderful it was to get in the mail.

Lynn said...

Such a wonderful totally "Rose" post! It's so good to know you're still here, being you. You must be the boulder I rest on at the Stream on my weary days...always there, always strong, always supportive.

What a blessing you are to all who've ever known you.

Jan said...

Doing the courtesy of visiting your site as you visited mine and what delight I find here! What a soulful woman you are; I'm glad we've connected. Your post is deeply touching and reminds me of all the treasures given by my own father who passed away 7 years ago from cancer.

When I was in college he wrote me the most wonderful, motivational "I believe in you!" letters. I wish I still had them. I probably tossed them in my 20s not thinking that someday he would be gone and I would love to have them close to me. I do have all his letters he wrote to his parents when he was in the Navy during WWII though and they are so dear. Babblings from a young 21-year-old, overseas, far away from home. :-)

I am a major letter writer. I love to hand write letters to people and receive them. Each day I eagerly go to the mailbox in the hopes of finding one from a dear friend or two. We whoosh each other with love and connect...I have saved every letter or card I received from my children and parents for many years now. I kid around by saying when I am old and sitting in my rocker, I will look through these for hours and they will sustain me....

Thanks for providing sacred space to ponder all this. You are dear. I will bookmark your site now and return....Much love to you. J

p.s. The song you're playing here is one of my absolutely favorites. It's lump in the throat time....

Shell said...

Letters are beautiful because they last beyond the original writers. I cherish my letters from my friend Sean who has passed on now. It is a visual reminder of the love and dream we shared. I am grateful for them and they are priceless to me.

Anonymous said...

I am so blessed to know your wonderful spirit.

Wendy said...

This is a great post. I think you stated it so well the beauty of receiving letters and saving them. I have all the letters my family members and friends have written me and I cherish them deeply.

Wendy said...

I'm sending some people your way from Passion for Letter Writing. :)

HereBeDragons said...

Letters do mean so much. They take more time and care than a half-minute email. Thank you for your thoughtful blog entry. It was lovely.

Daisy Cottage said...

Ah Rose you are so a kindred spirit... and your words always touch my heart. Letters are so special - true treasures and yes you are so very right - we will all leave way more behind than we can ever imagine.


Laura Hegfield said...

Rose after reading this post I completely understand why my post about collecting small objects as a way to transport us to the past and hold us safely in the present. What a beautiful blog entry, written straight from your heart.

Recently a former student wrote to me (email of course) about how I inspired her as a teenager to take the soulful path she is on now in college. It's an amazing and rare gift to hear from someone that our actions and words had a positive impact on their life's journey.

I've added your blog as a link to mine. I think my readers will enjoy your wisdom.


greg smith said...

I thought it is so beautiful what you have been writing about in this post. It is so interesting to look at the sentimentality in objects. Often it is not the physical object itself which it meaningful but the stories that surround it. I can't help but think about the watch in Pulp Fiction, although quite humorous, without this information the object is meaningless.

The traces of our bodies is also very interesting: the hair left on a hair brush. I had a really lovely cat that sadly died about 2 years ago. I found the brush that I used to stroke her with in my that draw everyone has containing almost everything; old batteries, cassettes, rubbers, cake cutters etc. I saw the brush and noticed a large chunk of her hair on there, I rubbed it through my fingers, raised the brush to my nose. The smell was faint but took me straight back as though she was sat next to me.

How do humans live on through objects? How does the introduction of digital information affect the sentimentality of objects? Is our relationship with them two way, they must allow us to put information into them as much as we take for them to become really sentimental. Maybe there is opportunity for digital information to do this?

I would love to hear your thoughts. What you have written here is very interesting an inspiring.