The Most Precious Keepsakes

The heart, like the mind, has a memory. And in it are kept the most precious keepsakes. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The purple glass bowl sits in our family room on a shelf near the TV where I can see it every day. After Mom died, I brought it home and put it on our coffee table. But Dan said it was too heavy and prevented him from lifting up the top when he wanted to eat in front of the TV.

The house on Hurst Avenue in San Jose where I grew up had a room that my parents aptly called the library. When the house was first built, before my parents owned it, the room was a garage, but my parents had their handyman fill two walls with shelves, packed them full of thousands of books and turned it into a family room.

The library was full of purple — purple cushions on the window seat; pillows on both couches of various shades, colors and patterns of purple and a V’Soske rug of uneven purple stripes. The purple glass bowl sat on the teak coffee table. It was originally used as an ash tray back in the late 50s and early 60s before I was born, when my parents both smoked. It continued to be used that way, even after my parents stopped, when various family members who smoked visited, until my parents relegated the smokers to the outside patio but kept the purple bowl indoors.

V'Soske rug -- white rug with purple, black and white stripes of varying widths and varying shades of purple

After Mom died, I was overwhelmed by the lifetime of possessions I inherited. As much as I wanted to keep all of her books, artwork, mementos and family heirlooms, our house would only hold so much. The purple bowl is lovely, but is neither fancy nor valuable. Yet it reminds me of my childhood, sitting in the library during holidays and family gatherings, listening to the altercations and strained conversation between certain relatives about grievances and hurts I didn’t understand, as well as the laughter that erupted when my cousins and my parents’ best friends, Barbara and Seymour, would visit. I can close my eyes and can smell Mom’s perfume — Joy by Jean Patou, taste the Jack Daniels covered ice cubes my father would let me have and see the library in all of its purple glory.

The home on Hurst is gone now, torn down by the builder who bought it after Mom died, replaced by a nondescript modern boxlike structure with white pillars. Although I have photos of my childhood home and garden as well as Mom’s sketches and watercolors, it’s mementos like the purple glass bowl that take me back there. There are a few keepsakes I wish I hadn’t given away, but for the most part, it’s the simplest ones that comfort me the most — the collection of perfume bottles that sat on my mom’s dresser, the red and blue flannel shirts my dad wore when he got older and it was harder for him to stay warm, the small binder where my mom kept her favorite recipes, written out in longhand, along with the recipes from her great grandmother and other long deceased relatives that she carefully preserved.

Just before she died, Mom showed me a tiny, tiny card that she and Dad had sent Mom’s parents the night Dad proposed along with a bottle of champagne. Mom and Dad had both been through some hard days and challenging times and would face many more during their 45 year marriage, but that note is a simple yet beautiful reminder of how dearly they loved each other and how much stronger they were together.

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