Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Bells

She kept a collection of china bells for years and I had no idea.

There they were, in plain sight, arranged in a curio cabinet for guests to see and appreciate for years and years. I’d walked through her house countless times and never noticed them. The date on the oldest bell was over forty years ago, and as I walked through her house for the last time after her funeral, I saw those bells for the very first time.

When I asked about them, my mother told me how Grandma would stop by mid-morning after her annual bell purchase, announcing that she got this year’s offering. “Got my Christmas bell today,” she’d say.

I didn’t even know they were there, I said. Such a small thing, but they must have meant something to her, we agreed. She collected for no one but herself. What else did she treasure that we didn’t know about?

My mom told me she kept letters, wedding invitations, keepsakes from trips abroad, albums full of pictures – the stuff of a life of a person who loved to look back. We all knew she was sentimental; we all can remember stories that she told over and over. I get my own sentimentality from her. I acknowledge this readily, accept this character trait as a gift passed down through the generations, reference my grandmother as the head of our own particular clan of romantics when I’m caught in a cloud of memories.

“I’m a sentimental fool,” I say. “I love to look back. It’s in my blood – my Grandma was the same way. I can’t help it.”

I’m not so special – lots of people recall times gone by. My memories are mostly rose-colored. And why not? The past can’t be changed. Why not remember the good things and bring them into the present? Goodness and love, the passing of time: all of these things have healing powers.

Those bells, like the rest of her things that marked her time on earth, are gone now, mementos of a life so quickly scattered, a few things saved by family members and friends to remember her. I often wonder about the things that kept my loved ones company in life, what other things like amassing a collection of pretty bells brought them joy.

And I look around at my own things, collected and saved to commemorate a date or an event. I think of this stuff I’ve accumulated, and wonder which trinkets and memories are overlooked today but which my loved ones might discover later.

What memories do we hold dear when our loved ones are gone?

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