I was looking through my mother’s scrapbooks and correspondence because one of her close friends recently passed away and I was looking for a letter she wrote to my mom when they were little girls.
My mom saved everything — letters, of course, but also birthday cards, tickets to the circus, wedding announcements, news clippings, report cards, school papers — everything.
I was looking through one of her scrapbooks that she kept as a little girl, with all its little girl treasures and the letters from her grandma who loved her so dearly.
Then there were the papers and report cards from Rosemary Hall, and a list of clothes the each girl had to have. And all her English papers from Vassar, where she went when she was only 16.
I found some prescriptions for my brother Rob and me when we were babies. They were written by T. Barry Brazelton, who was our pediatrician. I remember seeing him on television later in life and thinking, “That guy looks familiar!”
There was a whole box of papers from my mother’s leadership of the Fair Housing Committee in Dedham, Massachusetts fighting segregation in that then-all-white suburb. I vaguely remember our family getting harassing telephone calls from local bigots.
Then there were all her the papers from her career as a teacher and a scholar. She inspired a lot of young women to continue their education and become teachers and professors.
It reminded me of one of my last memories of my mother, who passed away eight years ago. She had a fast-acting form of dementia and she couldn’t remember who we were or who she was.
For a while we did jigsaw puzzles together. Then we did children’s puzzles, the kind with great big pieces. Eventually, even if the whole puzzle was put together and there was only one piece left, she couldn’t fit it in. But we could still smile and keep each other company.
My mother and father both had a lot of problems in the last years of their lives, and taking care of them was a big job for my brothers and me. We were so focused on keeping them happy it was hard to mourn the fact that this smart, capable, loving woman was being robbed of her faculties and her world.
So sitting there with her little girl treasures and her scholarly papers, picturing her at the puzzle table with a friendly smile on her face, I got a sense of her whole life, and finally felt I could mourn her properly.