Soon after Dean and I were married, we stored all our wedding presents up in the attic. The blue Tiffany boxes, the festive silver bags, various bowed and bubble-wrapped items. We had never gone through them; they had stayed up there, a huddled reminder for five years that we were too young for things like china and crystal. They would wait until we'd grown up. Suddenly, unused and unopened, they were the only things between us to separate, and without my having to say it, my mother realized I couldn't do it alone. She seated herself in the old beanbag chair we had in the living room in the late '60s. It was orange and hollowed out, the Styrofoam beans flattened with age. She peered into the dim light at all the boxes, the trunks. At one point she had moved all our baby items up here in anticipation of grandmother status. In one corner was our old highchair, white wood, with a pink elephant on the seat. I reached out to touch it and my finger made a long white line in the dust.
"Let's get it done before the weather clears," my mother said. "Then we can take a nice walk on the beach."
The wind was howling. "Ma, it's dreadful out there."
"Oh," she said, "trust your mother." When she had something absolute to say, my mother always referred to herself in the third person. "Your mother knows a few things. It will clear."
The boxes were carefully marked. SALT AND PEPPER SHAKERS, BRASS CANDLESTICKS, SOUP TUREEN, CERAMIC COOKIE JAR (REALLY UGLY), one box was labeled. BRANDY SNIFTERS ($$$) another said. I brought over a box marked SILVER CHAFING DISH. My mother eyed the boxes.
"I hope to god you wrote thank-you notes for all of this."
"It was five years ago."
"Your mother just wants to make sure. There's some pretty good loot here."
I held up the silver chafing dish. "What the hell is a chafing dish anyway," I asked.
"That one happens to be very expensive. Who gave you that?"
"I don't remember."
"It's very good sterling silver." She took off the ornate top and held it up. I could see her red lips reflected in the shine. "Take it home. I'm sure it came from our side of the family."
"How are you so sure?"
"C'mon. It shows real taste. Let's give him something he can really use. That life preserver, for example. Who gave you a life preserver?"
"It goes with the canoe." A canoe had been tied to the top of Dean's family's car when they arrived at our wedding. It was their present to us—a beautiful pea green boat. It had spent the last five years accumulating cobwebs in my mother's garage.
"Who gives such presents?" my mother asked. "A canoe in New York City. What were you planning to do with it?"
"I don't know. Circumnavigate the island?"
"Please," my mother said. She added the life preserver and the canoe to Dean's side of the list. "Bring on the next box."
Loss. Sometimes I pictured a box of the stuff, the consistency of powdered sugar, or ashes, stored away like all the items in the attic. If someone came along and offered me more, I'd say, "Loss? Thanks, but I'll pass. Got all I can use right here."
The morning tapered into early afternoon as we finished up. "Help your old ma," my mother said, erecting an arm from the depths of the beanbag. Though her face, at this point, was lined with age, like a sheet washed and dried too many times in the wind, she still held herself strong against the world. To her death, my mother was a woman used to having her way. As we reached the bottom of the attic stairs, a blast of light shone down the hallway from the window. "Look," she said. She tapped a ruby nail against the pane. "See? I wasn't crazy." We watched the waves break in long blades of foam. The sun made crazy diamonds across the water. "This is all I can give you now," she told me then. "Baby girl, it's going to be a perfectly glorious day."
We Hear You!