Monday, December 31, 2012

The Keeper of Things

My sister gives me all the junk that was our mother’s: blue and yellow bedspreads, clearly out of style; a pocketbook; brass butterflies; an old ironing board (I already have one but this one was our grandmother’s); the praying hands.

No explanation was needed for the praying hands. I knew what they were. Just like I know what the horn-of-plenty is, also white ceramic with a pearlized glaze, and the cutting board in the shape of a teapot that says, “Cookie’s Kitchen.” Things that have always been there. Things I always assumed everyone had—praying hands, a horn-of-plenty, a cutting board with their mother’s name on it…

She told me I was getting them. It wasn’t like she was bestowing upon me some valuable family heirloom. It was more like, whether I liked it or not. She’s a little bitch. She knew I’d take care of them, even though I am not religious, because they sat on my mother’s dresser for years, even though she was not religious. In fact, one time, she threw a crucifix into the garbage, that’s how not religious she was. It was a big one, about a foot tall, made out of oak with a ceramic Jesus attached to it. It used to hang over my parents’ bed until one day I spotted it in the garbage. Somehow it had gotten its arm broken and my mother didn’t want it anymore. But we couldn’t just throw it away! It was Jesus!

I rescued it from the trash and carefully put the arm back together again. The jagged pieces fit into each other, elbow into forearm, like a puzzle. You could hardly see the crack and if you didn’t bump it, it stayed. I carefully hung it back up. The next day it was in the garbage again. I pulled it out. My mother took it down off the wall, broken arm swinging, and dropped it back into the trash can. She said, exasperated, “Debi, it’s broke!”

She kept throwing it in the garbage. I kept digging it out. She hid it under the potato peels and wet newspaper, her passion about disposing it in such a disrespectful way proof that she was not passionate about religion and as soon as her back was turned, I dug it out again. She put it in, I took it out. Toward the end, I hid it in a shoebox. Though my dedication to saving it was no proof that I was religious. I just felt sorry for it.

Now it’s because these things were my mother’s.

I’m very sentimental about things. My sister knows this about me so I am an easy mark. She’s worse than my mother about throwing things out and so I know not to hesitate, not to question whether I have the room for something, not to suggest that she keep it because it will be out on the curb the next day if I even blink an eye. So she pawns off all the stuff on me. I am the keeper of things.

She even gives me her own crap. I knew she was angling to give me the old picture of a little boy that looks like her son for a few years now. Every time we passed it in her house, she said something about it. Isn’t it nice? Doesn’t it look like Michael? Like she was warming me up. Finally, somehow, I found myself the owner of it. I think she stuck it in with a bunch of other stuff that I actually wanted—the retro kitchen stool, the aluminum canisters, and the aluminum spice set that goes really nice in my kitchen with all the stainless I have in here. I had to take it. I took it even though I don’t have a wall to put it on and now I feel guilty because it’s not hanging up. But she has a load off. She knows I won’t throw it away. She knows I’ll find a spot for it.

She gave me a dented Thermos from the fifties that used to go in her retro kitchen in her old house, curtains that don’t fit any of my windows, gadgets that were my grandfather’s, a black milk can, and a stuffed chair that I had to make room for. She gave me the other half of the set of family silverware that I never knew she had (all these years I thought what I had was the whole set), photo albums, and dishes my mother once used for pudding.

And then the praying hands. They were in a box with a Bible. Not my mother’s Bible—I don’t think she even owned a Bible—but one with her name scrawled inside that the funeral home had included in our “package.” Even though she had never laid eyes on it, and I will never read it, I can’t get rid of it. Her name is inside.

Any day now, I will get the horn-of-plenty.

Since writing this, my sister has, in fact, given me the horn-of-plenty.