Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just a Memory

Ahhh - the furnace roars as it thrums to life, promising warmth in our notoriously cold house. While we have our choice of comfortable upholstered chairs, like street people, the cats and I each claim a spot on a heating vent. Raven, our black cat, stretches languorously, curling on the floor in the kitchen. Her gray-striped brother, Fuzz, snuggles against the wall in the corner behind a rocking chair. With a mug of tea in one hand and a draft of my will in the other, I opt to settle on a floor vent in the den.

It is an afternoon in early January, only 4:00 PM, but dusky. The Christmas tree seems to glow sepia, for all its bright red and green, as nostalgic as a family photograph. Outside, a snowstorm slows all motion, wrapping us in the buffer of its cocoon.

I smooth the sheets of the will over the aged oaken floorboards beside me, imagining a future gathering around a table of high polish in some lawyer’s office. I scan the opening line, “I, Eleanor Ingersoll Sylvestro…” and to my surprise, I burst into tears. This pronouncement of my name seems so formal, so final. I don’t fear death. If anything, in my image of the hereafter, my grandparents wait for me on a comfy overstuffed couch as I stagger across the threshold. They cry “Welcome home! Have a cup of tea!” as I flump down next to them, exhausted by life. But still, to think of myself as a memory?

What will my kids remember of me? Making “Happy Winter Fudge Cake” on the first snowy day? Crafting wreaths of bittersweet vines in the fall? Cuddling on their beds with a story at bedtime? Or reminding them endlessly to clean their rooms and write thank-you notes?

With so many incidents lost to memory, I wonder about the selection process that results in those that last. Of my own childhood, I remember such odd snippets as studying a dead bumblebee on a dusty window while posing for a portrait, sitting on my grandfather’s lap as he spun stories of “Dear Johnny,” and my grandmother, Byeo, buffing my nails. What holds these vignettes in my mental album while others more momentous drift away?

What will remain of me?

The shelves of my closet hold stacks and stacks of journals, the venting and blathering of forty-some years: Lea at her best and her worst. I’ve also made quilts, Santas and hooked rugs that should survive the next hundred years. While I love the idea of some future somebody saying, “Oh my great-grandmother made that,” it’s near impossible to think of myself as a hazy known-but-not-known person long past.

And I wonder about the effects of my actions, the ripples caused by every word and deed.

As I read the will, I put question marks next to term after term: “hereinbefore,” “per stirpes” and “discretionary powers.” I shake my head at the legal lingo. Would this document be rendered powerless if normal people could understand it? I hope those gathered around the conference table will be guided solicitously through these nearly incomprehensible provisions.

As I sit on my vent soothed by the warmth of the thundering furnace, the muffling caress of the snowy eve and my two purring cats, I feel more at ease with this plan for a future I won’t share. I review my questions for the lawyer and sip my tea.

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