October 12, 2010


When my Uncle Dick died last week, he left behind treasures from a long and storied life. It was his wish when he died that his family take the the things that meant the most to him and try to find some of his presence in them. On Sunday morning, Beth and I rounded up the kids, met my parents, and drove to Dick's apartment to start the process of cleaning out his place.

Dick documented his life in things. He wasn't materialistic but I think that's how he remembered the parts and pieces of his life. It didn't hurt that his wife was a professional appraiser. In going through his things - something I didn't particularly enjoy though part of me was fascinated - I saw the Dick I knew and met an uncle I'd only heard rumors about.

The man I knew was a slightly-hunched, white-haired, small but not frail man. In his house was evidence - a walker, a wheel chair, a few canes. But there were also things that spoke to the man's larger-than-life stature, his vast presence. A picture of Dick leaning out of his fighter in World War II. A shot of him escorting his wife through some sort of party, both elaborately and elegantly dressed. A picture of Dick boxing, clearly dominating his opponent.

Dick wasn't particularly communicative about things that involved emotion. I knew he loved and was fascinated by my children. But I wasn't prepared for his desk. Dick had a beautiful desk. On it were his correspondence, a letter opener, a magnifying glass. But just underneath the glass top, between the glass and the rich wood beneath it, were pictures of my children, maybe a dozen. Nor was I prepared for the story of Mia's other pictures. Before Dick got sick a couple of months ago, Mia drew Dick a few pictures which my mom took over to him one day when she visited. When Dick had a heart attack, he took those pictures to the hospital, pinned them up on the wall and told everyone about them.

I miss him. He was a part of my life and my family that I'm lucky I found but I'm pretty sure I didn't have enough time with him. While things will never and can never take the place of the man, I'm happy to some of his art on my walls and a few pairs of cuff links to help me remember both the man I knew and the uncle I never had a chance to know.

What is your most prized possession that helps you remember someone else?

Posted by Chris at October 12, 2010 7:31 AM

My family was not rich growing up. ON my dads side he grew up with his mom and dad, two brothers and a sister. My grandmother stayed home as was the norm and my grandfather worked various jobs over the years- on the railroad, delivering Pepsi and as a janitor for a school district. My grandmother had inherited her mothers dining room furniture. I'm not sure where it actually came from, if a family member made it or if it was bought but it was a china cabinet, two buffet pieces (one large and one smaller) and the dining table and 4 chairs. My grandmother died years ago, but when my grandfather died a few years ago, my dad and aunts and uncles were cleaning out his house and dividing up what they wanted of my grandparents. I took some ugly birds that my grandmother always had hanging on her wall. Turns out my father bought them for her once and she always displayed them, even they are seriously ugly! I also took some juice glasses that my grandmother always gave us soda in when we were little. When it came down to the final days, no one had taken the dining room furniture. All the cousins had pretty, fancy, new furniture and no one wanted the old, very plain dining room set. My husband was there the day they had the dumpster and called to tell me they were just going to toss it all in the dumpster, he was furious, because no one wanted it. So we decided to take it. We already had a dining set. Nothing we were attached to, so we gave that to another family and took my grandparents, actually my GREAT grandparents dining set which we still have. The china cabinet is so amazing with a curved glass front that my grandmother always kept pictures of her grandchildren taped to. It's not fancy by any means, but you can't put a price on the sentimental value. Every holiday I think of my grandmother taking her good china out and carefully putting it back after dinner. In there I also keep two vases that were my grandmothers and a gold candy dish that belonged to my maternal grandmother. We also took a corner cabinet that my grandfather built himself. As far back as I can remember it was always in my grandparents house. The glass front broke in moving it but I cleaned it up and stained it to match the dining room furniture. Knowing my grandfather built it makes it so special.

Posted by: Lisa at October 12, 2010 8:02 AM

It's a single lock of red curly hair from my daughter.

Posted by: Maribeth at October 12, 2010 8:17 AM

A friend of mine recently gave me his mother's old rosary. Knowing how much he loved his mother and how he cared for her as she lay dying, I was moved beyond words. I wanted to give it back. But he said that I remind him of her, and that she would want me to have it. So I am simultaneously reminded of him, of his mother and of the devotion they had for one another. It reminds me to remain present in my children's lives, and not just go through the motions. A good reminder, considering how busy life gets these days.

Posted by: varinia at October 12, 2010 8:59 AM

My favourite Grandmother left me few special heirlooms which I love, but my most precious items from her are stories written by her and about her life, her parents, her childhood, her immigration to Canada as a young child, growing up, marrying my grandfather, the life experiences they had together, their children and even a few stories about her 6 grandchildren. She began writing the stories when I was a young teen and when the first set were done she had copies made and bound them in a simple duotang for each of her kids and grandkids This covered her life up to the birth of her first child. The second set of stories came to us a few years later including stories about my grandfather who had already passed away, her kids as they grew up and the grandkids. The books are so incredibly precious to me, I can't describe it. I can hear her voice again when I read them and the information contained in them would have mostly been lost if she had not written it down. She passed away when I was 22 and so never met my kids. I love that my kids will be able to read these stories and get to know her as they grow up because I know how much she would have loved them. It was an incredible gift to her family.

Posted by: Shannon at October 12, 2010 9:23 AM

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1977 she began putting family photos into a series of albums, there are 30 in all. She also made each of her 6 children their very own- covering parents, siblings, and specifically their own life. I was only 15 at the time (and the youngest of the 6 kids) - so mine was never actually completed. My Dad has held on to those albums for 33 years, never allowing them out of his sight (though we are always welcome to stay at his house and look through them). My Dad is now terminally ill, and has passed the books, reluctantly, to one of my brothers & his wife, knowing they will be cared for and shared the way he would like.

Those books, knowing how much love and attention my mom put into them to chronical our family... those are irreplaceable and cherished, for sure.

Posted by: 3jaysmom at October 12, 2010 9:43 AM

I don't know if it's my most prized, but I do love the framed print that Jason brought to our life together. It's of an empty swing and it's shadow. And after he died, I used to stare at it, wondering if he had known he was going to die and leave me alone like that swing. It will be on the wall of my house for the rest of my life.

Posted by: k8 at October 12, 2010 9:56 AM

My maternal grandmother lived to cook for her family. After she passed away all I wanted was things from her kitchen. I got some plates and bowls. Her mixer, the spoon she cooked with all the time and a few other things. Now, when I cook for MY family it's like she's there with us. :D

Posted by: NotAMeanGirl at October 12, 2010 11:21 AM

I have always loved and treasured my grandpa's woodcarvings, and they're even more meaningful now that he's gone. What I never expected is that I would also get all sentimental over the Ron Gardenhire bobblehead that he got for me as an afterthought - he had Twins player bobbleheads for all his grandsons, and nothing for me (the only granddaughter).

It is in his honor that I say: Stupid Yankees.

Posted by: Julie at October 12, 2010 11:24 AM

Absolutely, hands down, the most prized possessions I have of my parents are the memories in my heart. I know it sounds cliche, but nothing material I have can hold a candle to the warm memories and the emotions they invoke.

Posted by: Laineydid at October 12, 2010 12:33 PM

This is a beautiful post, Chris.

My most prized possession of my grandmother's is a piece of art work she dearly loved. My grandfather hated it, and she used to sit in the guest room where it hung simply to enjoy it's beauty.

Posted by: Mindy at October 12, 2010 12:58 PM

that's really touching. i lost my mother in my first year of law school, and the one thing i took from her place that really reminds me of her is her old cast-iron skillet. she made cornbread in it, among many other things, but it's the one item i can think of that really encompassed how i want to remember her. funny how something so simple can be so loaded with memories...

Posted by: magnolia at October 12, 2010 1:24 PM

The photo I took of my grandma that captures her spirit. Maybe "retained" sounds a little less creepy!
I posted it here:

Also, she (like a lot of grandmas) would give money instead of actual birthday/Christmas gifts & I would usually just absorb it in to the general cash-flow, but one year I actually went and bought a little artsy piece and it always reminds me of her. It says "New York. Coffee" (or something like that). She couldn't drink coffee and never went to New York, but still.

Posted by: harmzie at October 12, 2010 1:40 PM

I have a ring that is passed on to the eldest daughter from the eldest daughter in our family. I'm the first person that it's fit for years (I have teeny fingers). I don't wear it often because I worry about losing it (I don't know what it's monetary value is but to me it's priceless) but when I do it reminds me of my late granny, who was a very special lady.

What an honour for you that Dick thought so highly of your kids.

Posted by: Katherine at October 12, 2010 2:03 PM

My husband was a best man at a wedding. The photographer took two candid photos of us. The first is my husband leaning over and whispering something in my ear. The second photo is of us both laughing hysterically. The wedding couple framed those two pictures of us and gave it to us as a thank you. By far and away my most prized possession.

Posted by: SherriVespa at October 12, 2010 5:59 PM

You really needed these to help you. These posts are beautiful. I sat in an old ladder back chair for dinner for most of 27 years, until I moved in with Himself. When Mom died I got that chair. The day I got it I went back to, every night the last thing before dinner was set, the teapot was filled for our after dinner tea and talk. I was a grown-up to sit with the grown-ups and drink tea and gossip.

Posted by: joss is boss at October 12, 2010 10:30 PM

Well my entire family (except my parents and sister) are back in Slovakia, so I don't have a whole lot to go on here but.....when my mother-in-law was dying, she gave me a beautiful necklace and I'll forever treasure that. My father-in-law, who is now almost 89 has gifted me with countless hours of stories, comments he'd never make to his own children and lots and lots of chuckles...as well as tears and frustrations (all a part of being a stubborn ole Pole!)....I will definitely miss him dearly when he does depart...but I know that I was loved.

Posted by: Lujza at October 13, 2010 12:04 AM

The part about the pictures under the glass and Mia's drawings he took with him to the hospital made me tear up. It's really nice you have some of his things to remind you (and Beth, Mia & Owen) of him.

My grandma had a stroke and went into a nursing home almost two years ago. When my dad and aunt and uncle started cleaning out her house and prepping it for sale, they asked all the grandkids if we wanted anything from the house. The only thing I wanted was the cookie jar from the kitchen counter. It's not even a real cookie jar - it's actually a cheap tin flour canister (part of a flour/sugar/tea canister set) - but my grandma used to keep the cookies in it and every time I look at it I think of her and remember sitting at the kitchen table talking with my grandparents and listening to their stories.

The other thing I have is my grandfather's typewriter from the '40s that he used for his business. My dad found it in the attic of my grandparent's house. I'm a writer and my grandpa and I used to talk about writing all the time, so it's pretty cool to have that.

Posted by: erin at October 13, 2010 12:28 AM

Hard to say what my most prized possession is. I have some tools that my uncle used in his shop. Those mean something to me. They are special because they were an extension of his hands, something that he used to create.

Posted by: Jack at October 13, 2010 12:46 AM

One of the things I will treasure is the 1912 copy of "Peter and Wendy" I started reading to Granny when she was in the hospital last year.

Posted by: Heather at October 13, 2010 1:26 AM

Aside from a lot of photos, I have a few things that I consider to be precious reminders of my dad. I have a mug with his face on it - the company that he worked for did them the year before. Each staff member received a mug with one side of it showing small pics of the entire staff (small company) and the other side was the big photo of the staff member that the mug belonged to. My dad's smile and expression in the photo on the mug is so typically him - jovial, mischievous and happy. I have 2 gifts that he gave me on my 21st. He had the company we worked for (mechanical engineering firm) make a beautiful 21st key for me, and he gave me my very first bottle of proper perfume. I still have the bottle tucked away safely. I have a t-shirt that belonged to him which has his running club's logo on it. He got into running late in life, but he loved it and was very dedicated, so when I wear it, it makes me feel very close to him. The last, and in some ways the most precious of the rminders is his maroon & white striped sweat towel that he used to use for just about everything. My mom bought it for him many years ago when he was gyming, then it became his towel for when we did karate together, and then his towel that he took to running. When the running club brought the car back to the house for us, I went out to the car and the towel was still laying in the passenger seat, like it was waiting for him to come back. It lost his scent some time ago, but it still feels like a part of him.

Posted by: Delia at October 13, 2010 2:49 AM

I was getting through your post just fine until I saw the part about Dick having the kids photos and drawings around him. Then I cried! I have quite a few items from my three grandparents that have passed away, but my most favorite are the teddy bears that my mom made for me out of their clothing. My first Grandpa bear is made out of one of the flannel shirts he was always wearing, and accented with a name patch from one of his first jobs. I have another Grandpa bear made out of a flannel shirt again, accented with a pocket knife (something he ALWAYS had on him) around his neck and a Grandma bear made out of one of her softest sweaters, and accented with some of her pearls. Those are things I'd probably race for i a fire (after my children, of course).

Posted by: js at October 13, 2010 9:20 AM


My deepest condolences; I'm glad that you have these wonderful memories. In the end, what more can we leave but our impacts on other people.

I lost my grandmother ( raised by, so in mother territory ) a couple of years ago. I find that each item of her's has some meaning to me, as it brings back a memory of a time and place. I think one of my most precious is a lamp that was by her bedside. I had written a note as a wee tot saying "I love you", and now, almost thirty years later, the note is still attached at eye level. That speaks volumes to me.

In spirit,


Posted by: metawizard at October 13, 2010 1:31 PM

First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. I don't know about you, but I'm over this whole business of people dying.

My Grammy passed away not quite a year ago (I'm dreading the start of the holiday season which incorporates her birthday and the anniversary of the last twelve days of her life). She left a formal will and a handwritten list of special things to her five children and nine grandchildren. I was left a harem ring that her sister (my Aunt Miriam - one of the most special people in my life beyond Grammy) had brought from Arabia (where she lived during the 50s) for my mother. My mother gave it to Grammy on her wedding day (which was just a few months after my Grandfather was killed). So it went from my great aunt to my mother to my grandmother to me. I love it. I feel Grammy with me when I spin it on my finger.

Things aren't everything, but the little things can really mean a lot.

Posted by: Melissa at October 13, 2010 10:12 PM

My dad had an onyx ring that I coveted for years, so when he passed last Thanksgiving, I immediately claimed possession of it. It has yet to leave my finger. I'm sure I look amusing, this little girl w/ a great big man's ring on her finger but it's my connection to my daddy. My reminder that even if he isn't here physically, he's always w/ me.

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Posted by: Lancel at November 18, 2011 3:32 AM