“Mama, we’ve got to look through the boxes in the attic. The movers are coming soon. We need to decide what things will go in my attic. You won’t need much in the nursing facility. There are so many things up there that I don’t know what they are and pictures of people I don’t know who they are!”
Eleanor picked up one picture at a time, squinting at the black and white faces. “Who are you, man and woman? I know your faces. Who are you?”
“Mama, this quilted blanket is stained and torn. Can we throw it away?”
Eleanor’s twisted fingers caressed the blue gingham square. "I wore this to the church picnic when I met him."
“Him? Who, Mama? Dad?”
Eleanor looked up at Sharon with milky blue eyes, as if she forgot she was there. “He said I was beautiful in the blue dress.” She touched another light blue flannel square. “My baby boy…”
“Baby boy? Mama, what boy? It’s just Shelley and me, Sharon.”
Eleanor held the quilt to her cheeks and a trickle dampened it.
“We can’t throw it away, I guess. What about this rock? I’m sure that’s just trash.”
Eleanor smiled and clutched the smooth stone. She shifted it from one hand to the other and put its coolness against her skin. “He took me to the ocean….waves… wind…”
There were baby shoes, photos with scribbled names and dates on the back, knitted sweaters, and embroidered doilies. Each brought a smile or tear to Eleanor’s face, and Sharon couldn’t throw anything away. She put them back in the boxes with a sigh.
Of course, she remembered some of the treasures herself. There was the macaroni covered jewelry box, made with popsicle sticks at summer camp, Christmas tree ornaments of felt and glitter, and the necklace of chunky, gaudy beads that she made in first grade for a birthday present. Was that the stuffed poodle that Sammy Doolan gave her when she was twelve? She thought she threw that away…and her old diary?
Mom wanted me to remember. Maybe I should have stayed friends with Sammy. Maybe I wouldn’t be so lonely now, if I hadn’t turned away from him. I wonder if he’s still around.
Some things just fell apart, like a yellowed newspaper, dried flowers, and a plaster picture frame. A few glass figurines lacked arms and tails. Those went in the trash bag. A box of clothes smelled musty and scattered seeds when Sharon shook them. She shuddered with the thought that she might find a nest of baby squirrels or mice.
She grunted as she pulled a wooden trunk from the cobwebby corner and swiped a layer of dust from its lid. She coughed and then sneezed. With a click and snap, the lock popped open, and she lifted the top.
An American flag, folded into a triangle, lay on top. Sharon handed it to her mother and dug deeper into the box, through papers, clothes, books, and tools.
Eleanor touched the stars. “I pledge allegiance…”
“Mama, is all this Dad’s stuff?” She pulled out a fishing hat with feathery flies stuck on its band. There was a flat blue box with a gold eagle embossed on its cover. Striped ribbons and brass medals lay on a dark blue cushion. Sharon closed it and replaced it. She took out s bundle of envelopes, tied with a string.
Eleanor stared far away, in years long ago.
Sharon untied the letters. Blue and red postmarks hailed from Italy, France, Germany, and England. The once white envelopes were now stained and torn. One square envelope was bigger than the others. She slowly pulled it out. The front showed a sleigh with a couple sitting close, oblivious to the wintery night sky because they were gazing at each other.
Inside it said,
YOU SHINE BRIGHTER THAN THE STARS TO ME
BECAUSE YOU ARE IN MY HEART.
P.S. I’ll be home soon, for Christmas.”
Eleanor looked at Sharon. “Paul? I miss you. When are you coming home?”
“Oh Mama, Dad never made it home for Christmas. I miss him, too.”
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