[Today’s post is from the archives.]
In Loving Memory of my Mother, Marilyn Lee Downs Seiler.
The Search of a Lifetime
The message from my father came as we were preparing to leave for vacation:
I have given much thought to how to give your mom’s wedding rings and I finally made a decision. When it is convenient it would be good for us to get together so I can pass along the one I have selected for you.
There is a second item I want to give you but I can’t find it at the moment. Maybe, when you are here, you could look for it.
The weekend after we returned, my husband and I drove over the mountains to my father’s house. On the way I thought about the three wedding rings Mom had accumulated during their fifty-three year marriage. Three children, three rings: that perfect correspondence certainly simplifies heirloom distribution, I thought to myself.
The door to Dad’s safe stood open in his office when we arrived. He led me down the hall, extracted a small velvet box, and presented me with the diamond wedding band he’d bought my mother for their silver wedding anniversary. I slipped it onto my finger. Thanks and hugs flowed between us. We returned to the living room and sat.
“Do you remember,” he asked me, “The pin I made for your mom when I took that jewelry-making class? I want you to have it, but I can’t find it. I’ve seen it in this house, so I know it wasn’t lost in the move. It might be in one of those little boxes on the dresser. Can you look for it?”
“Sure, Dad.” I said.
I followed the long L-shaped hallway to my parents’ bedroom, then reminded myself that this bedroom was Dad’s, not theirs. He’d moved to this house just a few months after Mom had died.
But it looked like their bedroom had always looked. Mom’s cedar chest rested at the foot of the bed. They’d bought this suite of furniture when I was in third grade: her jewelry box sat on the triple dresser, just as it had for over forty years. And all around the jewelry box sat small keepsake boxes, like footmen surrounding a carriage, porcelain and wood and mosaic-topped metal.
I stood for a moment, awed by this Mom Museum. I pictured my father unpacking my mother’s little treasure boxes, placing them where they’d always belonged, on a dresser next to a bed that she’d never again share with him.
Shaking my head to free myself of that image, I began my search.
I found tickets to Disneyland–leftover A and B tickets, not the grand E tickets one needed to ride the Matterhorn back in the days before wristbands. I found single earrings. One little box held the hang tags from clothing, each with its sale price next to the original price. I came across a cache of wallet-size photos, credit cards, a small pack of cello-wrapped Kleenex. Here were my father’s dog tags, nestled alongside a clumsy papier-mâché bracelet and a stray bullet. Here huddled a single dried rose, a military-issue can opener, smaller than a book of matches, and six rusting paper clips.
And here, alongside an ancient rubber band and a big gold jingle bell strung on a red satin cord, was the pin my father had made for my mother.
I sat on the floor and held it for a moment, admiring my dad’s careful work. My eyes drifted up to the dresser, tugging my thoughts along with them.
I remembered those family trips to Disneyland when I was small, when I rode the Matterhorn tucked in front of my mother, my dad and big sister sharing the rear seat. I closed my eyes and Mom and I were standing at the sale rack in Macy’s, searching for that red blazer she needed “if the sale was good enough.” I remembered a Mother’s Day from my Brownie troop days, when that molded chartreuse bracelet had been my love offering to her.
I didn’t learn until years later that Mom didn’t like roller coasters. Mom would pay full price for a sweater for me, but never for a blazer for herself. She wore that ugly bracelet time and time again.
These artifacts of her life could have been curated by an expert, because as I studied them, I saw new dimensions of my mother’s life. They illuminated, like any well-edited collection does.
I let a wave of pure sorrow flood my heart, missing her.
I stood up, wrapping my fingers around the pin I’d come looking for. I closed the door to their bedroom behind me, not looking back, as I made my way to the living room.
“Look, Daddy. I found it!”
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
Proverbs 31:28-29 (NASB)
I’m linking up with Jennifer Lee for Tell His Story. Drop by, won’t you?