Reflections on Shuffle-Play
The music box stopped working. It no longer makes a sound.
My mom did not have a lot of fancy things. She and my dad lived very simply – partly out of necessity since Dad couldn’t work for most of his adult life due to his physical and emotional disabilities, but also because of a fierce thriftiness they both held. If they could make something keep working, keep serving its’ purpose, no matter how bad it looked or how many times it had to be taped together to keep functioning, they kept using it.
Among the things I found in mom’s house were piles of notebooks in which were recorded every purchase, bill paid, and offering to the church, in other words – every single expenditure they had made – over the last fifty-two years. And because mom and dad also didn’t believe in throwing things away, I also found my Grandmother’s notebooks where she had kept track of all of her purchases as well.
Every penny mattered. They didn’t say things like “it’s just twenty bucks, why not get it?” – they said things like, “waste not, want not.”
There were times I felt my dad took this to the extreme – like when the window in my upstairs bedroom (which had a beautiful view of the hills and woods in the distance) broke and rather than get a new window, he just asked my brother to nail a board over it – first stuffing the window frame with insulation so that it could now keep the cold air out more efficiently. The fact that my room was now a dark tomb with no natural light was not a consideration.
Or there was the car we had when my brother and I were small – one had to put a screwdriver somewhere in the engine in order to get it started. Rather than fix whatever was causing this, mom and dad just dealt with it and drove it that way for years.
For a while, dad deemed water services too expensive and so for a long time we used the outhouse out back and filled jugs of water at my grandmother’s house in town to use for drinking and bathing.
I suspect I don’t really understand how tight finances were for my parents. When dad was forced to retire from ministry due to his health, he received a small disability pension each month but it was very minimal. It was small enough that we still qualified to receive government cheese and rice, and food stamps. Mom couldn’t work because dad wasn’t well enough to take care of us kids, plus he needed her to care for him as well.
So we “made do.”
There’s so much of this I admire. I imagine I would have all my student loans paid off by now if I managed my money and “made do” half as well as my parents did. As it is, I lean toward the frivolous more often than I should. Particularly with my children – I like to buy them things. I think it shocked my mom when she came to stay with us how much stuff we bought for the kids. I remember admitting to her, “They are spoiled.” She did not deny it, she said simply, “Yes. But they are cute.”
For however little material possessions mom wanted or needed during her life, it became even more extremely this way the last year of her life. When she came to live with us, I ached to be able to ease sadness that she was carrying. Since I didn’t know what else to do – I brought her little “treats” – things that she would normally have enjoyed – some nice soap or a pretty cup, some fresh stationery or even a tall, cold bottle of diet coke. She politely thanked me and brought them into her room where she would place them carefully in her bedside drawer or closet. She did not need them or want them or even barely consider them for longer than it took to store them away.
Sometimes I think she was just getting ready for what was coming next. Her whole life she had needed so little but where she was going, there was nothing she would need. I think all she really wanted was to go home, be with dad again, be done with her body that she had to stick needles in and medicate every day.
After mom died, my brother and I went through her house in Minnesota and took care of what was left behind. There was nothing of great value but much that was precious, of course. One of the things I brought home was mom’s jewelry box. It is pink with pink velveteen on the inside. I remember as a child how I loved to open that pretty box and look at her treasures. When I opened it after her death it still contained many of the same things I had remembered she kept in there: some earrings she used to wear when she was right out of college and worked in Minneapolis, her high school Letter, a locket with a picture of dad, and dad’s wedding ring.
I took dad’s ring and slipped it onto my thumb. It had been just a few days before that I had put on mom’s wedding ring. When she was in ICU they had to take it off her since her fingers were swelling so badly. I had put it into a plastic bag along with the only other piece of jewelry she wore, a black hills silver ring I had given her some years before. I told her I would hold onto them until she got out of the hospital. The night she died, while I was still in the hospital room trying to gather the strength to stand and leave and go home, I kept looking at her hands and seeing the indent on her ring finger. I remembered the rings still in my purse. I took them out and slipped both those rings on my finger. I had planned to just bring them back to Minnesota and have them buried with her – but I couldn’t. Her thin gold wedding band had been on her hand her whole life. She had held us as babies while wearing that ring. She had cared for my father wearing that ring. While I felt it rightfully belonged buried on her finger, I couldn’t part with it. I knew I somehow needed it to help me get through the rest of my life without her.
It makes no sense that a thin gold band should help me feel closer to my mom who cared so little for material things. But maybe it does. This ring was one thing that did matter to her. It stood for a promise she made that mattered to her more than any other in her life. I look at it and I can see her hands still. Truthfully, I would give away every single thing I have before I would get rid of this ring. It rests on my finger right below my own wedding band. Like a reminder from my mom that promises and persistence matter. She’s still teaching me, even now.
So anyway, the jewelry box – it had a music box in it. Once upon a time it clinked out a little tune – that was part of its’ magic. It was quite a few months after mom’s death and I had brought the jewelry box with me to Texas and placed it on my dresser when I noticed the small key on the back. I turned the key to see if it still worked and there was only silence. I wish I remembered what song it used to play.
There is so much I wish I still remembered. Bit by bit, mom and dad, our life together when I was growing up – all of it is slowly fading. While there are things I will never forget, there’s just as much that is lost.
Is it lost, or is it just making room for what is new? Is it all perspective? It must be, because for some people, visiting a graveyard is sad and morose while for another person it is peaceful and thought-provoking. For one person, reading ancient scripture feels meaningless while for another, it is full of truth and wisdom.
So I am shifting my perspective from this: “I lost my mother six years ago today,” to something different:
Six years ago, I began to carry on the legacy of goodness and kindness my mother gave to me.
Six years ago, I released her into God’s care.
Six years ago, I said “see you later” to my mom. She’s waiting for me just beyond the veil.
Six years ago, I became the oldest female in my family line. For however premature it felt, I trust that whatever my grandmothers and my mother gave to me in wisdom and knowledge was enough to carry me through. It was enough for me to pass on to my children.
Six years ago, the world shifted in an uncomfortable way, but not an impossible way. I’m okay. I’ve weathered this grief and let it become a seed that will hopefully now grow new life.
Little Silver Ring
Growing old, wathing silver turn to gold
Snowing cold, why aren’t you here for me to hold?
In a dream somewhere finding my way home
Then a change of scene
The rest took place in Ancient Rome
Was I a king?
Pretty ladies all around
I gave one a ring
So satisfied in who we found
Didn’t make much sense
But we loved to do our thing
Behind her fence
And behind her little silve ring
That turned to gold That turned to gold
Growing old, watching silver turn to gold
Snowing cold, why aren’t you here for me to hold
Didn’t make much sense
But we loved to do our thing
Behind her fence
And behind her little silver ring
That turned to gold
That turned to gold