Saturday morning over 100 years of history drove away in a big truck. As I packed, and helped the auction house staff load the truck, I had flash backs to afternoons with my great-aunt in Lake Charles, who painstakingly related every scrap of family information she knew to me during long, sweaty bayou afternoons. Every object had a story. I caught myself more than once starting to tell the story of something or another to the auctioneer. He was polite, but making sure everything fit carefully in the truck and nothing was broken had his full attention.
If you are gasping in horror right now, that I would send the collected belongings of 100 years of family to be auctioned off, please catch your breath; I sent the good china to my sister-in-law.
I am a rare Southern bird who has no cousins. Both of my parents were only children, and their parents had one, or no, siblings, and some of those siblings never married, or if they did, they only had one child of their own. If you hear me reference a cousin, chances are it’s someone from Calcasieu Parish who was related to one of my great-grandmother, Nobie’s, siblings. Or possibly to my Mississippi great-grandparents, who I don’t know as much about. Most likely, I have never met them, but exchanged the “Dearest Cousin” holiday card every year, because that’s just what we do. My Nanny did it, so I keep it up. During that sad time of life, when one’s grandparents all seem to decide to die just at the time you are starting to figure things out and really need to ask them some questions, I inherited enough crap to run an 18th century plantation house. Literally. And Friends, no one needs that much crap. Like, three sets of china, two sets of crystal, three sets of silver, 28 monogrammed and tatted pillowcases, etc., etc. The list is very long. And very old.
I have struggled to find some sort of balance between family historian and storage unit. As I said to a dear friend over too many bottles of wine the night before the truck came, “there is so much of it I get overwhelmed, so none of it ever gets used.” I kept what is most precious to me, and sent the rest to what will hopefully be good homes where the silver actually gets polished and the china is shown off more than once every 8 years.
My Nanny was well known in Lake Charles for free-flowing sherry and driving the local nuns around in her giant Cadillac on “adventures,” and somehow I don’t think she’d mind it too much that all these things are helping to fund my next big adventure. I have such wonderful memories of her and my great-aunt, like how they would pull out the meat grinder on afternoons when the satsumas were weighing the trees down so much they looked like they might uproot, and grind the whole fruit into a Gateau L’Orange, chattering away in Pidgeon French. Or the way she smelled after she sprayed her perfume behind her ears on nights she and my grandfather went out and I stayed with my great-aunt, watching Lawrence Welk in prime-time and eating Lady Borden chocolate ice cream. I opened that perfume bottle early Saturday morning and smelled that smell one last time, shared that memory with my son, and let it go. It’s lovely to have had the bottle, but lovelier to share the memory of her with her oldest great-grandchild.
I am 100 years lighter.