Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Girl with the Amber Necklace

So I’m driving around town with my boss on a Monday afternoon, looking for a place to buy gin, and contemplating the meaning of my existence on this planet.

We’d spent the afternoon in the nursing home where her friend, the great Marxist feminist writer Marlene Dixon, had just died. We collected her possessions into boxes and carried them through the rain to the car. En route to my boss’s house, where we’d sort through everything, she wanted to get some gin, and have a drink before we got started. I can’t say I blame her.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been pegged for the task of going through all the stuff someone leaves behind. When my grandfather died, I cleaned out his trailer with my grandmother. Piles of clothes and little trinkets that may or may not have held value to him, were now being tossed in a bag headed for the nearest thrift store. Every once in awhile, you come across something that reveals meaning about the person, like his bedside drawer, empty except for a picture of each of us grandkids and a prayer asking the lord to accept him into heaven when his time came.

My grandfather I felt some connection to, but Marlene I’d only met on my few recent visits to the nursing home to fill her bird feeder and bring her chocolate shakes. My boss and I sat under a carport sorting through boxes that represented everything Marlene possessed at the end of her life. Among the stack of family photo albums was a book of poems by high school kids.

“She probably has one published in there,” my boss said.

I searched for it. And found a poem about a piece of brocade that once belonged to a Chinese princess, and then to a French pompadour, and now to a young girl writing a poem who wonders, who will have it when I am gone?

And now I wonder about the myriad things lying around my own house. It occurred to me that at the end we’re all reduced to a big pile of stuff that someone has to go through and figure out to do with.

In my case, a person would have to sort through items such as: a pink wig, a Disney Princess collection CD, a plastic Jesus pencil topper, a mini newsletter about a feisty goat that I got in a carton of eggs once, ungodly amounts of wrapping paper and drawers full of bows and trimmings, silver elephant earrings my grandma bought me that I can’t get rid of or bring myself to wear for fear people will think I’m a republican, a Groucho Marx disguise kit, skull and cross bones band-aids and Antiques Roadshow: The Board Game.

Even the things that have real meaning to me, would they mean something to anyone else? The pearl flowers I wore in my hair to get married, that are carefully wrapped in plastic and in a box with the cards we received on our wedding. The black and white picture of my mom when she was in second grade or my grandparents on their wedding day. My kindergarten artwork and Care Bears carefully preserved by my grandmother. The tiny hospital bracelet I wore when I was born.

Eventually, whether it’s tomorrow, or 100 years from now, all of it will be thrown away. (Unless it’s in a museum somewhere because I accidentally made some great scientific discovery or made first contact with aliens.)

I’m sitting here typing wearing a big beautiful amber necklace that belonged to Marlene and thinking that the best we can hope for is that our family and friends keep some of the trinkets, either to remember us by, or because, like the amber necklace, they simply find them beautiful and so they will filter out into the world, bring happiness to others and add to someone else’s pile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Stephanie! I was forwarded your piece by a friend because I once knew Marlene Dixon in another life in Northern California. I was once very close to her and I lost contact with her. News of her death through your writing came to me on Thanksgiving day, 2008. I would so much like to find out what Marlene's life was like after she left California in 1985.

If you could share anything with me, I'd appreciate it. My name is Patricia and my email is PatriciaPacifica@Yahoo.com