For the past year we’ve been preparing to move my nearly 91 year old dad into an independent living facility close to where I live. We’ve been going through my parents’ belongings, pulling boxes from underneath beds, emptying closets, and retrieving treasures from the attic.
My parents didn’t have a large home – but they had a lot of stuff! Stuff they’d been collecting since before they bought this home in 1975.
Children of the depression, my parents saved everything, “because you just don’t know when you might need that.” My mother was a school teacher, so that meant every empty coffee can or shoe box or random piece of yarn, string, or rubber band could potentially be of some use in her classroom. On top of that, she loved antiques and was highly sentimental, keeping mementoes from a lifetime of people and places and events she wanted to remember.
And as I would come to realize, a lifetime she wanted to pass on.
I remember moving into that house my freshman year of high school. It was Thanksgiving weekend and family stayed to help us make the move across town. I don’t recall much of the move itself, but I was ecstatic over the fact that my new room was blue, and typical of the times, had blue shag carpet. The week after we moved in, my mom and I went to Perkins Timberlake department store and I got to pick out a new bedspread for my room. I was so proud that for a few months I actually made my bed every day.
After I left for college in 1979, my mom redecorated the room a few times over the years, but she never got rid of that bedspread. It was still up in the linen closet of the guest bathroom when I started going through things last summer.
The most unexpected treasures were up in the attic, where they’d been packed away since 1975. When I was only 14, and long before I had ever realized I was gay. Long before I even knew what “coming out” was all about.
A few months ago my dear friend and pastor, Pat Bills, climbed up in the attic and handed down every box – boxes that had been packed by my mom and hoisted up there 45 years ago by my dad. Most of that stuff hadn’t been touched since that time. And I didn’t realize what all they had kept up there.
My baby bed, complete with the mattress.
My high chair.
And the bouncy horse I named “Vigor,” one of my favorite toys as a toddler.
If I knew at the time those items were placed in the attic, I’d since forgotten. And I surely didn’t understand the full reason why they were kept in the first place. Because I was only 14, and nowhere near thinking about the possibility of babies who might sleep in that bed and sit in that high chair and ride “Vigor” someday, just as I had.
But I’m pretty sure now that my mama was thinking about the possibility.
So she tucked those things away, most likely expecting to have grandchildren who would need all those things when they came to visit Granny and Papa. She never said a word to me about getting married and having children. If I talked about the possibility or if I asked questions, she would engage me in conversation, but she never pressured me to date or even teasingly asked as so many parents do, “when are you going to give me some grandchildren?!”
Maybe because she had spent so many years being single herself, after her first husband died and before she married my dad. Just maybe she understood what it felt like to wonder if you’re ever going to live up to the expectations of marriage and having children that we often place on young people. Whatever the reason, she never voiced that expectation to me. She always encouraged me to be me, and if that meant never getting married, never having children, that was just fine.
But when I saw those things coming down out of the attic – things that you only keep if you’re expecting a baby to visit every now and then – well, I knew. I knew for the first time that Mama had those same expectations that most every parent I’ve ever encountered has had – that someday she’d have a grandbaby to love on. But she never voiced that expectation to me. If she was one bit disappointed that she didn’t ever have grandchildren, she never let me see that disappointment.
To her, I was always enough. Just me. Just as I am. And that’s made such a difference in my life.