All four of us sisters agreed to meet up in October to begin the process of sorting Ma’s belongings after she’d passed away in March 2018. We were able to complete about 50 percent over a two-day period.
Jovial at times, near tears other times, we found the hours passed quickly. There would be no walks in the neighborhood nor pauses to talk to the neighbors this time. Our focus was to attempt to distribute as equitably as possible her precious things— Alsatian linens, family pictures, six needlepoints she created and the remaining jewelry she had not given away before she passed.
My mother’s wardrobe was defined by good-quality classic clothing. You see, she once was a seamstress, which informed her eye for clothing design. She passed this good taste on to me, and as good fortune would have it, I am the one closest in size to her.
Three of us arrived a day early and started staging and sorting. We set up four crates for each daughter, then piles to donate, recycle or throw away.
We set up a flow for which rooms we’d work first, starting in the guest room where each of have stayed over the past 16 years. As each drawer got emptied, we unearthed many little treasures. Upstairs, we sorted through pictures of the 81 years of Ma.
A Francophile/Alsatian theme had always defined our childhood home as well as the condominium where my mom in her last years. She was the only one of her family to emigrate from her hometown, Hunawihr in Alsace, France. Bringing the flavors of her hometown may have helped ease the lack of immediate family near her.
The big items
When the fourth daughter arrived, we took on bigger items and clothing. It had already been decided that the commissioned wall-size painting of our family in honor of Nicky, our deceased sister, by Heinz Gaugal would go to this last sister, as she lived close enough and had wall space for it.
The grandmother clock would go to the youngest sister as no one else wanted it. And so it went with many items. After a brief discussion, it either went to the person who wanted it most or we drew straws. No arguing.
As we drew straws for a large aerial photo of Hunawihr, I spoke up to share that the picture had been offered to me last Thanksgiving while I visited Ma and Doug one last time. They had promised to mail it to me but it never happened. So I did receive it.
Each time one of offered a story like this, we trusted that it was the truth.
Toasts and tears
My mother’s husband, Doug, was present to sort out items that were his. This ended up being a godsend as he was a quiet and steady presence for us all. He even treated us to an early Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams and green beans. Yes, not from scratch but all of it quite tasty.
My youngest sister provided an Alsatian wine by the Hugel family. It was called Gentil. Nice and dry, it complemented the meal with just the right touch.
When it was time to make a toast to Ma, that’s when I dissolved. Tears flowed as I shared my gratitude for all of my sisters and my mother’s husband for being here to create this most difficult closure. The home Ma created was disappearing before our eyes as her possessions got dispersed among us.
We all knew that this place would not be the same the next time we returned. The walls will reflect that it is Doug’s home. One item would be the same: He asked if the needlepoint of an Alsatian girl could remain in the dining room as it reminds him of Ma. So a touch of her will remain here.
To UPS, to her grave
As we bustled to finish up, a strong wind came up. Two of us had to rush to United Parcel Service before it closed at 4 p.m. We bubble wrapped what we could, then drove to ship off our larger pictures and bins.
Afterward, the storm strengthened, yet Doug and two of us drove to Ma’s grave to view the new marker with her new married hyphenated name on it. The intense wind and rain reminded me of the spring day she was buried.
From there, we all met up at Resurrection Parish, the church my family helped build. Both my parents and middle sister had funeral masses at this church. One sister was married here as well. This is where my mom and Doug sang together for the past 17 years in the church choir. Just the week before we arrived, a sexual abuse accusation came out about the priest, who just happens to share my mom’s birthday. He has denied the allegation, but for now he is not allowed to be with parishioners. This made me feel sad, but also grateful that Ma is not here to hear this.
Keeper of the memories
We packed and sorted into the night. One brother-in-law brought prosecco from Italy, allowing us one last toast.
Sleep escaped me that night. Much had changed just in the two days. Time marches on and waits for no one. The emptiness of Ma’s home was palpable yet a new energy is building as Doug remains as keeper of Ma’s memories here In Bellville and beyond as we scatter across the United States. His love for her continues. He has known us from a distance for the past 18 years and married to my mom for the last 18 months of her life. Now our friendship grows as he has visited most of us this year.
Ma’s memory remains alive and well in our hearts and minds. I miss her but felt her watching us, most likely pleased with how we all are coming together.
We couldn’t finish. The furniture, peacock feathers, cookbooks, kitchenware and fine dinner/glass ware will have to wait. Soon, there will be another gathering of the sisters.