I am the keeper of the family heirlooms. I have my maternal grandmother’s silver tea set, handwritten recipes from her notebooks and her diamond engagement ring, my stepgrandmother’s poetry, both grandmothers’ china cups and saucers, and craft supplies and clothing from both my mother and my mother-in-law. In fact, I’m wearing my mom’s blue knit shirt right now.
Many mornings I sit in Grandma Avina’s wooden rocker softened with the pillows I crocheted for it and rock as I write in my journal. Occasionally I wonder what will happen to the many volumes of my journal after I die. Should I burn them to hide my secrets? When? Or should I keep them for future biographers, in case I became famous?
I recently worked out my will, and frankly the extra notes are more important to me than the standard bits about money and things like the car and house. I never had much money, so we’ll be lucky if I come out even in the end, and I’m happy to give wheels and lodging to whoever needs it. What I worry about are my writings, musical instruments, jewelry, photos, books, quilted wall hangings, the desk that Grandpa Al and Uncle Tony made for my mother’s brother long before I was born, the bookshelves that used to be in Grandpa Fagalde’s house, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima that my late godmother bought for me when I was a religion-crazed little girl, things like that. What about those miniskirts I saved because they were so cool? Or the photos from my first marriage? What will happen to these things? Who will sort them? Who will care?
It’s not really just a childless thing. If you’re lucky enough to have a son or daughter who understands and cares about the same things you care about, you might hope they treat everything with respect. But they might not. And with stepchildren, they really might not.
The truth is everybody’s stuff is up for grabs. Grandma Rachel never had kids of her own. Grandma Ann had two children and six grandchildren, but both ended up with young folks plowing through their things, throwing gobs of it away and offering the rest to anyone who wanted it. That’s how I got the china cups and a turquoise necklace that Grandma Ann probably never wore.
That’s how I got Mom’s clothes. I bagged the ones that fit and brought them home. My father, distraught from his loss, just wanted them gone.
Nobody cares about your stuff as much as you do.
Many of the women I have interviewed don’t worry about their stuff. When they’re dead, they’re dead, they say. How do you feel about it? If you don’t have children, who will sort through your stuff? This is a morbid subject, but having sorted too many dead relatives’ things, I know it’s an important one. How does the woman without children make sure someone cares for her treasures when she’s gone? I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you know of some particularly creative things women have done with their worldly goods.