The day started very early yesterday. Cheri’s sister headed back to Arizona after spending the summer up at Cheri’s mom’s place, and going through the entire ordeal of her mom’s death and the funeral and such. Now that it’s October, and the weather is changing, she’s back in warm and sunny Tucson.
The with townhouse now unoccupied, it was time to head up to Grafton, and go through at least the first big push to empty the house, and in the process, divide up the possessions among the siblings. Cheri’s brother-in-law had access to a big covered trailer, so it would also be the day when the different kinds of furniture would be loaded up and the stuff going back to Fargo would be transported down.
So of course it was a rainy day. Alternating between a drizzle, and great downpours, we went from cupboard to room to dresser, sifting through her mom and dad’s life, and boxing up the treasures, and packing up cars. To say it was an exhausting experience would be an understatement. It wasn’t so much that it was heavy moving, although it was – it was the heavy psychological work of finding some different items, and then asking who might be interested, or listening as sisters and brother pulled out a memory along with the item. Late in the day, Cheri found a metal tin in her mother’s dresser. It was full of the face powder that her mom wore in earlier years, and although it had little or no real value, in terms of Cheri’s senses, it was nearly priceless, and so it went into the box with the embroidered dishtowels and some Tupperware.
There were glasses that the “kids” remembered growing up that they used at the big family dinners and each of them pulled out the colors they wanted. A number of other items that we had given to Cheri’s mom in recent years after they left the farm went back into our care, like the cushiony floor mats for the kitchen or the lawn chairs, or the Keurig coffee maker. Actually, I was kind of surprised at just how many things we gave her when she moved into the first place she had lived since she was a newlywed. We were happy to do so, and never dreamed we would receive them back so quickly.
Late in the day, Cheri showed me a stained glass Santa. Cheri worked in stained glass for years, until she was forced to stop due to health issues with lead. This Santa was pretty special for a reason no one else knew. You see, Cheri had actually made two of them, and gave one to her folks for Christmas one year. Last Christmas, after we put up our decorations at home, the Santa that Cheri had made for us accidentally fell off the window shelf, and shattered. It was heartbreaking as well as glass-breaking, because she would never make another one with her own hands. As she was going through the Christmas decorations at Cheri’s mom’s place (something NO ONE should ever have to do!), she discovered the other Santa, in perfect shape. Cheri had actually forgotten she had made it for her folks, and now, with their deaths, this gift became the gift that came back to her, now replacing the one that was destroyed.
Like I said, the big furniture was put in the trailer, including two pieces of special importance. Cheri’s folks came to visit us out in Rapid City a couple of times for the 4th of July, and in town those years they would hold a big Heritage Festival. One of the events happened on the morning of the 4th, as they held a big antique auction. Being a pseudo-expert, and connoisseur of antique furniture myself, Cheri’s dad and I went to the auction both years. For two years in a row, I pointed out what I thought were the best pieces being offered – one was a nice walnut pie safe with square nails and hand-cut dovetails, and the other was a nice old trunk, probably from pioneer times. I had planned to bid on both of the items, both years. And both years, before I could announce my intention, Cheri’s dad said he was going to bid on them instead. I held my tongue, and watched as twice – twice – “my” would-be item became his to take home. Being the great son-in-law that I am and was, I even cleaned them both up for him, and waved goodbye as they went to their home. Now, after 25 years, they came home again, to find their place among our other antiques, with special stories to tell.
And so we sorted and packed and piled up their lives, carrying more than valuable things, instead things of a different value, like the bench that sat by the back door of the farmhouse, where boots were put on and take off, and mail was dropped and purses and coats were laid, to be put away properly at a later time. It was really the first welcoming spot for the farm family, and Cheri, with her sensitivity, was the only one who thought about it, and asked for it. Such is the woman I love.
There was another items, however, that was of much greater value, and greater heritage than almost any other in the house. Cheri’s grandfather, Lynn, was actually born in 1887 – he was 47 when Cheri’s mom was born, and was already 71 when Cheri was born. One of the cherished family heirlooms is the baptismal gown he wore as an infant way back in 1887. It was handmade with lace, and probably was that Victorian style look of about 3 ½ feet long, with a little baby bonnet to match. I’m not sure how many babies in Cheri’s family were dressed in that same gown for their baptisms, but I know both of our sons wore it… Aaron was a little baby, and it fit him perfectly; Adam was, well, a good eater, and so by the time he wore it for his baptism, let’s say that the gown mostly fit, but he looked cute in it anyway. Other cousins of that generation wore it as well, and in between times, Cheri’s mom kept it first in her cedar chest and then in a dresser drawer, and then when they came to the townhouse, it was wrapped in tissue on the shelf in one of the closets.
There had been some discussion over the years as to who should receive the gown for their family. Of course, the front-runner, as was the case in almost everything, was Cheri’s brother, the first-born and the only son in that generation. Let me just say, as a third-born, that I bristle as the idea of any child being given the family treasures simply because they happened to have been born first. The gown was discussed from time to time, and Cheri’s mom came around to the point of saying that all four children should “share it” and use it as grandchildren and great-grandchildren had the need.
The issue was really unresolved even in the death of Cheri’s folks over the last years. It just sat on the shelf. One helpful piece was that Cheri’s brother really didn’t seem to have any interest in it. Cheri’s older sister was already back in Arizona, so that left Cheri and her younger sister. We found the perfect word to move into the future: Cheri would be the “steward” of the gown, and if the need arose at some point in the future, it could be loaned to a part of the family for the baptism, and then returned to Cheri for safekeeping. With that agreed, it quickly went from shelf to box, to car to home, and today, we are going to start finding the best way to preserve it, and cherish it as a now, 134 year old garment that is the garb of a holy time.
This is the last place on earth that we will need to clear – all of our parents are now gone, and the items they cherished and held, from wedding rings to corner dry sinks to pieces of pottery and other special family treasures, are all where they need to be. We ask the boys what things they treasure of our own home and they just roll their eyes. Fortunately, they and we are still young enough to not have to worry about that for quite a while. Last night, after such a long day, we were both asleep by 9pm. One of the gift God offers us is the wonderful way to recoup from times of exhaustion and mental fatigue. I pray for you the same rest, in those times when you need to go through a lifetime of memories in one short day.
Word for the day: adamantine. Pronounced ad-uh-MAN-teen. This is a word that best describes a two-year-old, or a teenager in love. From the Latin adamantus, meaning “made of adamant.” This comes from the Greek adamantinos, which is “hard as adamant.” Adamas is “the hardest material that exists in the world.” Of course, in this case, we are talking about an attitude, not a physical property. When someone, in our language today, is “adamant,” what we are saying is that they are utterly unyielding, or firm, not unlike (but completely forgotten) “adamas” – that hardest material, which in some cases is a good descriptor of the quality of one’s skull – so hard-headed.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.