A favorite aunt passed away last year. She was 94, and her mind was crystal clear until the very end. She died in her own home, and as she passed, her pastor, three children, and their spouses surrounded her. There was sadness, to be sure, but also many smiles, hugs and warmth. She had lived a good life and had witnessed great and small events.
I would be less than honest to say that there were “absolutely no” family squabbles over “things.” There were a few pieces of jewelry, a few framed prints of questionable value, an oak desk, and a nearly new flat screen television in focused contention. Rumor had it that the disagreement was on the edge of bitterness. There was unpleasant name-calling. It eventually got sorted out, and there seemed to be peace restored to the land.
A Pile of Junk
I was away on a trip marked by several speaking engagements. When I received the news that my aunt had passed, I said a simple prayer of gratitude. Of all my aunts, she was the one who supported me the most. She was always proud of my accomplishments, no matter how humble. So, my prayer was one of thanks; thanks for her charmed life. I knew that one day we would see each other again.
When I returned, I contacted my cousin, the oldest of my aunt’s three children. He was happy to hear from me, and he told me he was at “Mom’s house,” throwing away (in his words), all of the junk of the last 50 years.
It was nice to see my cousin. We reminisced over a cup of instant coffee. My aunt’s cupboard had a glass container full of Folger’s Crystals! It would not have occurred to her to spend $3.00 on a cup of fancy coffee. After all, she lived through the Great Depression. As I was leaving, my cousin said:
“Steve, there’s a pile of junk in the garage. By Monday, it will all be recycled or given to Goodwill. You’re welcome to anything there.”
I shrugged my shoulders, and then I said: “Oh, maybe something for my desk, if that’s all right.”
The garage was loaded with old sweaters and shoes, leisure suits, a broken sewing machine, the Encyclopedia Britannica and the like. There were piles of paper, pieces of cheap pottery and a few planters. As I was about to give up looking, I spotted a decorated tin box that said, “Recipes and Such.” It wasn’t much more than five inches square, and I figured it wouldn’t take up much of a footprint. My cousin told me to please take it and “any other junk I could find.”
I brought the box home, put it on my desk, and didn’t think about it for several months. When I eventually opened it, I realized it was packed full of recipes. At the time, I thought, “How nice, one day we’ll have to look at them.”
It brought me comfort to know that a small piece of my aunt’s life was nearby.
I had not heard from my cousin for many months, and one day, I called to see how his family was getting on.
“It’s been rough,” he conceded. “Who would have thought a flat-screen TV and a cheap oak desk would have created such a hullabaloo. I’m at my wit’s end.”
As we were talking, I absent-mindedly flipped open the tin box. Maybe my aunt’s hand guided me (I truly believe in such things), but I came upon a recipe card that read: “Mom’s Turkey Stuffing.” I realized the recipe could have gone back a hundred years or more.
“Oh my,” I said, then I shouted: “You gave me a treasure!”
He asked me what in the world I was talking about. I took an hour’s drive, met up with my cousin at a restaurant and gave him the tin box. He immediately understood the spirit of the gift I had returned.
My cousin returned home and bravely called his sisters. He insisted they come see him. Over a kitchen table, the children divided my aunt’s Thanksgiving recipes. That Thanksgiving the three families came together to re-create their mother’s dishes.
As a “joke,” but maybe not really, they set a place for my aunt (their mother). I am told that as they ate, they would look over to the empty chair and ask aloud, “Do you approve, mom?” I was also told there were many tears. Of course, my aunt approved.
The golden threads of our families, the threads that hold us together are not possessions. In the end, we don’t sit around and reminisce about the cars we drove, or the houses we owned, but rather the special times that create memories.
Finding the tin can of recipes elicited one of my fondest recollections. When my aunt would call and proclaim she had just made a bunch of fresh cinnamon rolls, she would invite me to stop by and pick up a batch. Regardless of where I was, or what was on my schedule, I never once missed a chance to enjoy my aunt’s cinnamon rolls.
I honestly can’t remember too much of anything she owned, or what brand of purse she carried, but she will always be a constant reminder that not all treasure is silver and gold.