Edna Mae: My Stuff & Stories May 28

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Edna Mae as a young woman

My mother-in-law, Edna Mae, died owning little more than the clothes on her back. That’s exactly how she wanted it. The morning after her death, I cleaned out the drawers and closet in her room at the nursing home. After donating her clothing, I walked out with only a small box of personal items and memorabilia. I remember feeling sad and thinking, “There should be more.”

As she’d aged, she carried the concept of down-sizing to an extreme. The few things that mattered to her were passed on to younger generations. She kept only the necessities for day-to-day life. A veteran of the Great Depression, she needed and wanted very little. Even Christmas gifts were routinely returned to the giver.

Frugality was her religion. Toward the end of her life, she lived with us for a while. One evening I was clearing the table after dinner. We’d had a casserole that had been left-over from left-overs. There was still a tiny bit in the dish—not enough to choke a sparrow. She saw me scrape that bit of food into the garbage and declared sternly, “That’s wicked!”

At one point we learned she’d burned the daily diaries she’d been keeping for years. I suspect it was less about clearing clutter and more about keeping her private life private. The diaries from her later years made it safely into her granddaughter’s care. Then they too were burned when Katie lost her home in the Carlton Complex Fire. It was as if the Universe were adhering to Edna Mae’s wishes.

All family photos are precious. This one of Edna Mae is especially dear to me. It was taken, I believe, for high school graduation. In her eyes, I see a glint of the “gotcha” genes her son inherited. She walked to the beat of her own drum, raised her kids well, and loved her husband above all else.

Her final years were miserable. She was in pain both physically and emotionally. Her husband and one son had died. Her other son was in a wheelchair and unable to speak with her. Dementia had erased her spirited, adventuresome self. The photo reveals who she was, how she loved life, and how life loved her back.

(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider the stories attached to the stuff you treasure—maybe even share them.)

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