My Aunt Alice has lived in the same condo in Oak Lawn for 35 years and over that time has collected a lot of stuff. She is moving out and her sisters have been tasked with helping to clear her place out. As her only niece, I have been offered china, crystal, and silver, but I politely shrug it off, knowing full well it will sit in a box in our basement. Half of our family still eats off plastic plates.
As I helped my mom pack up some of my aunt’s dishes and glasses, we talked about the people who held this delicate stemware. I suddenly wished that I was a fly on the wall for some of those big family dinners back in the 1940s and 50s. One china pattern belonged to my Great Aunt Margaret, who was already pretty old when I was young, but had the smile and spunk of a woman half her age. I still remember her wide grin, the smell of her Chanel No. 5, and her penmanship that was more like calligraphy than cursive.
That’s when it dawns on me that this “stuff” that Aunt Alice wants me to have is much more than nice dishes. It is a piece of the people who left it behind: silver from Margaret and crystal from my grandmother, Alice--both strong women who I didn’t get to know very well, but who loved to entertain, be with family, and toast to good health with their Waterford.
Nora Kerr is the owner of Memoir for Me, specializing in video and life story books based on personal interviews with loved ones.