It took me a week and a half to take the boxes of memories out of the car. Pictures, keepsakes, her jewelry, recipes, all filled the trunk and back seat of my car, the smell of yellowing paper and fading photographs overpowering the new car smell for days. I waited to bring them in the house, like I thought that if I left them there, somehow, miraculously, they would find the right place for safekeeping. I'm not ready to be the keeper of the family pictures, but I guess that's a time that finds us, however ready or not we may be.
My mom is the last of her generation, nine kids altogether, eight of them already dead. There is no aunt or uncle to turn to to bring a sense of our history to my perspective. My mom has slipped from us so quickly in the past nine months that it's clear now that what I know of our family's history is perhaps all I will know. I may be able to piece together a little more from cousins, but the personal connection to the past is gone.
Questions linger. I find them coming to mind on the drive home from work and I reach for the phone to call and ask her, but as I punch in the first number, I remember that the number I know by heart doesn't work anymore, and the one I don't know never reaches her, though the phone sits near the chair where she waits, day after day, for one of us to call. On good days, she doesn't know how to answer it, on bad days, she doesn't hear it at all. I've asked most of the important questions, but it's the little ones that linger, the curiosity about that special thing she did with her fried chicken that made it taste better than any I've ever eaten, the wondering about how on earth she managed to make sure all of us kids, seven of us, went to college on the salaries of two people who never graduated high school, about where she found the courage to leave behind family and home in Tennessee and never return. And then there's the reality that she's never met Lisa, and will never likely comprehend and be grateful for the incredible joy she and our life together bring me.
The boxes sit in the corner of a room in my house, unpacked, like they're waiting to go where they really belong, what's left of my mom reduced to a few boxes, scattered between Oklahoma and South Dakota, items with stories that will come quickly to mind as I pull them out of boxes, others that will make me wonder, never really knowing for sure the story they tell.