Our Most Valued Possessions
My most important possessions have no monetary value, yet they are everything.
Posted October 11, 2017
One of my saddest and most difficult tasks was the dismantling of my parents’ house of 55 years. After our last parent, our mother, died over eight years ago, my brother and I decided to sell it. Easier said than done, for where does one begin to sift through a lifetime of memorabilia and meaningful possessions? Certainly, my memories will continue to nourish me as, within my mind’s eye, I can still walk down the hall of my childhood home and enter my parents’ bedroom from which so many of the family conversations emanated.
It is a Sunday, so I see my father relaxing in the overstuffed mustard color armchair next to his side of the bed while my mother rests on top of the sheets on her side. The game shows or golf tournaments provide a constant hum of background noise while my father closes his eyes. Within seconds, his soft, rhythmic snoring reminds us all of his accumulated physical exhaustion from his six-day-a-week job of running the family custom-shirt business.
I am in my own home now, having brought back some of my father’s possessions that meant so much to me. In a 3”-by-2” miniature address book, my father kept track of the addresses and phone numbers of most everyone he knew in San Francisco along with those who left the city, including me, for I created my adult life in Los Angeles. He prided himself on possessing the smallest printing known to mankind, all reflected in the tiniest of journals filled with scrawls that I can only see with my reading glasses. Under my name, there were several cross-outs, showing my frequent moves and even my pager number (Nov. 21, 1994, was stamped next to this information with directions on how to connect to my pager). My contact information changed so frequently that he had a special insert just for me, for the white out was too thick for his tiny book.
I also could not part with my father’s beloved domino set, in which he took such joy. At 72, his stroke left him unable to talk or walk on his own, yet he could still play a mean game of dominos. So, during my visits home, my father and I played together every afternoon. As we spread out the yellowed, ivory tiles, they made a click-clack sound on my parents’ white and gold Formica kitchen table. This sound became so comforting while we mixed and chose our five tiles. In healthier, earlier years, my father took the leather box of dominos on his annual vacations to Palm Springs where, by the pool, on a metal table with a woven umbrella, he would pour the tiles out in preparation for a game with either my mother, a new friend, or with family friends from Los Angeles. My father also loved teaching my three sons to play dominos and they enjoyed learning the meaning of the black dots and they giggled as they tried to beat their Papa in a game that he rarely lost (yet he was known for throwing a game if it meant they could win). I will teach my own grandchildren how to play dominos with their great-grandfather’s adored set. Today, though, after I examine the box with its yellowing pieces, I have a heavy heart remembering the meaning of the game: precious time together with my beloved father.
I also now possess my father’s boar bristle hair brushes that I just couldn’t throw away. My father’s morning ritual was to shower and shave and then brush his hair (what little he had) with two wooden brushes. I can still envision him brushing both sides of his head at the same time, as he had no hair on top of his head. This also made sense, for he was all for saving time. Even after 14 years, the brushes still have my father’s smell, a mixture of Old English cologne and Dial soap. Today, when I take a deep breath, I capture the scent and I am transported to my father’s bathroom watching him, yet again, in his comforting, daily routine.
And, perhaps the most powerful possession I now own from my father is the custom baby shirt that was sewn by the women at my grandfather’s custom shirt factory on the day his first son (my father) was born. It was a family tradition to sew a custom shirt for every newborn male child. My father’s shirt, with its hand-knitted green tie, dates to 1923 and has his initials, M.R., sewn into the collar. I return my father’s baby shirt to the same drawer where all of these profound memorabilia lay and, sadly, it is folded next to my brother Jeffrey’s shirt, who died before he turned two. I knew my father would want me to have Jeffrey’s shirt as well.
None of these items are especially meaningful to anyone else other than my father and our family. I know this. Yet, they are important reminders of what I hold dear. Some of my most important possessions have no monetary value, yet they are everything, for they connect me to my enriched memories of love: a tiny address book, dominoes, two hair brushes, and a custom-made baby shirt.