I am sure that it is occurring to many of us, as we self-isolate and socially distance ourselves during this pandemic, that we might be the next entry in the local paper under “Obituaries.”
(I’ve already written mine, some years ago when my then-husband died; I was writing his, and figured I might as well write my own and get it over. I’ve updated it in the last twenty-five years, of course, and that reminds me, I’d better look it over now just to make sure.)
Along with musings over mortality come the additional questions: who should I leave my stuff to? The money (not much) and real estate (not worth that much, but something) are already designated; the few pieces of real jewelry are designated for my daughters and daughters-in-law and granddaughter. But what about the cluttered collection of objects to which I have been (and am) attached? Not much intrinsic value there, though the Prussian china bowls are possibly worth a hundred Yankee dollars each, and the little metal box by that sort-of-famous Deco designer maybe another couple hundred . . . The bronze Saraswati figurine might fetch eighty or ninety. And the Hopper print, one of the few prints I own that’s professionally framed, might garner a hundred or so more. Small change to some, but my kids might prefer the cash to yet another of Mom’s “things.” Should make a list . . .
I will make a list, for the folder labeled “In Case of Emergency” that has the wills and financials and all that in it, along with the obit and the photograph to go with it, one of the VERY few I can look at without wincing (I do not photograph well). It’s from a trip Larry and I took to the Grand Canyon after we got engaged; we stayed at El Tovar, a famous resort, and the photo is one he took in the dining room. I took one of him across the table, too. My picture is on his nightstand; his is on my dresser. Good pix of both of us. We look like two people in love, which we were. Are.
Back to my list:
The stuff that might fetch a price at auction aside, what is there of mine, in terms of earthly possessions, that I value, and why?
Most of it is in my study, aside from the books that are shelved all over the house. There are two bookcases in the study, though; those are books that mean something to me on various fundamental levels, though there are a few of those on the other shelves in the house, too. Well, never mind those for the moment. Let’s stick to the study, which is my refuge, my space, the room where I work, think, practice my guitar, write, make art, and dream; the place where my desk sits under a window that frames a view of a maple tree older than the town I live in (which was chartered when there were still Indians to worry about, and “panthers” too—mountain lions; the old folks called them, or, in the dialect of the day, “painters,” which confuses present-day transcribers of ancient letters and journals no end. “Lost a few chickens to a fox or maybe a painter,” some old journal notes, and today’s reader conjures up a vision of a beret-sporting dude in a pigment-daubed smock and hipster goatee running hell for leather with a squawking hen under one arm.
But I digress. Well, it’s my list. I can if I want. But let’s see:
The books. The ones in the smaller bookcase are books about writing, reference works, and a few of my prized annotated children’s books; I love an annotated edition, and these are excellent, and also pretty. The Hobbit, Classic Fairy Tales, The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan.
The books in this case are not my intimate and loved friends, though. Most of those are in the other bookcase: the books I grew up with, the ones that I read over and over (still do), the ones that formed me and informed me about life, about men and women and God and truth and poetry and love and sex and death, about faith and trust and betrayal and grief. Novels, mostly; the titles might be familiar to some, but likely not. Oh, there’s a first edition of Rebecca; have to add that to the valuable list. And another of MacKinlay Kantor’s Andersonville. And the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Thomas Hart Benton’s illustrations might be worth a few bucks. Not much else is. Maybe some collector or perhaps my younger daughter will want the Junior Literary Guild editions of The Forgotten Daughter, Magic Portholes, Firecracker Land, The Children’s Country. That last is a doorway into profound and memorable magic. If I could w0rk magic myself I would have every child in the world read it.
And there are some books that were in my Nana’s house (I’ve mentioned those elsewhere) and in my parents’ various residences, books I read and loved, books that are old, old friends: Auntie Mame, Chicken Every Sunday, Claudia, Claudia and David, Melissa (Taylor Caldwell), A Thing of Beauty (Cronin), Green Mansions, The Song of Bernadette, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Collected Stories of Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Decision (Marcia Davenport), and the rest of the children’s books: Heidi and the sequels, Hans Brinker, The Jungle Book.
The books will end up in some used bookstore, I guess. Well, maybe someone will buy them and open them and see my name and wonder, as I do when I buy a well-used volume, who this person was whose name sprawls across the flyleaf or crawls like a vine along the inside cover. Who owned this before, and what did they think of it? If a used book that falls into my hands has marginal notes, I read them eagerly, hoping to discover who my predecessor was, and what she or he liked or hated, puzzled over or triumphantly cheered.
Oh. The Elizabeth Goudge books. I hope someone will like these. Green Dolphin Street, about two sisters on a Channel Island who loved the same man—and how his sacrifice redeemed them both; The White Witch, about the English Civil War and a family’s grief and glory; The Eliot family trilogy: The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim’s Inn, The Heart of the Family. These follow the Eliots through half a century of discovery centering around two houses and the refuge these provide for those who love and live in them. These have been a source of much strength, as have two of her other novels: The Dean’s Watch, a historical fiction about faith and loss and love in an English cathedral city in the late 1800s, and The Scent of Water, about a contemporary (mid 20th century) woman’s discovery of herself in late midlife. I will have to devote an entry all on its own to these works and the others of Goudge’s that I adore. All of them dear, all friends who speak to me over and over again.
Rumer Godden’s books have spilled over into the dining room bookcase, Kingfishers Catch Fire, which is autobiographical fiction, about a young English mother who waits out her husband’s service in a remote village in Kashmir, with her two small daughters and no protection against the villagers’ hostility; Godden also wrote about this time in a memoir, Thus Far and No Farther. There’s also her China Court, another one about a house and its generations; The Battle of the Villa Fiorita is a curious story about two children who attempt to stop their parents from divorcing, and The Greengage Summer, semi-autobiographicallyl based on a sojourn in France by Rumer, her sisters, and their mother, in which the eldest daughter (Joss in the novel, Jon in real life) comes of age and into her first grief as a young woman—as well as her first glory in her beauty and strength; In This House of Brede, like Black Narcissus a novel about nuns, but in this case cloistered English Benedictines, women whose love of God has led them to a life against nature perhaps but filled with poignant joys nonetheless, and real suffering too; I also have the two volumes of her autobiography, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep, which relates a magical childhood in India and a coming-to-earth-with-a-thump back in England, then return to India, marriage, and that sojourn in view of Himalayan snows; A House With Four Rooms, about her life postwar and post-divorce with her second husband; her memoir with her sister Jon Godden of their childhood, Two Under the Indian Sun. These were my introduction to the subcontinent and to Hinduism as well. I treasure their wisdom.
Little Women, Little Men. There’s an annotated edition of the former as well as a Norton critical edition. Jo was me and I was Jo, long ago. It will take another post to do justice to Alcott’s work and her influence on my life as a person, a girl, a woman, a writer, and a teacher. So I’ll leave it here for now, and come back later for “Knickknacks, etc.,” Part II.