I recently received a few packages in the mail from the woman who helped clean out my parents’ trailer and get it ready to sell. Mary and my parents were neighbors. After my mother died and my stepfather’s memory problems got worse, Mary stepped in to help out. I’ve never met her in person, but I’ve realized she is a Godsend in the truest sense of the word.
I was estranged from my parents for most of my adult life. We exchanged Christmas cards and occasional emails but we weren’t close. Still, I worried about how Dan would fare without my mother. The two of them had retired in a dusty, isolated town in Kern County California. There is one winding road in and out of the canyon town of Wofford Heights. Bakersfield is the nearest city and it takes an hour to get there. Dan had already had a couple of strokes and thought of him being alone nagged at me. I couldn’t imagine him moving back to Massachusetts and he had no family in California. I prayed that someone would look out for him and that he wouldn’t be left all alone. I called him now and then and he sounded ok. Our conversations felt forced and awkward, so it was always a relief to get off the phone. Then I called one day and a woman answered. It was Mary.
It was Mary who found the assisted living facility where Dan now lives. His memory problems and need for assistance became too much for one person. She helped move him in and set up his room with a few items from home. I was planning to go out to California to visit Dan and to help Mary clean out their trailer but the pandemic ruined those plans. Mary did it all herself. She texted pictures of items she thought I’d want. Most of it was hideous but she sent it anyway.
My mother collected ceramic dachshunds. Each one had a different theme. There was an artist dachshund covered with paint blotches wearing a black beret and holding a brush and pallet. And a gambling dachshund with his body set up like a poker table and strewn with cards and poker chips. There was corn on the cob dachshund, and, of course, a hot dog. Also a baseball player, a firefighter, and a police officer. My personal favorite is the hip-hop dachshund wearing baggy basketball uniform and sporting a jaunty baseball cap and sunglasses. He has a medallion around his neck that says “Long Dawgy Dawg”.
Most of the collection of dachshunds broke in transit, arriving with missing paws and broken tails. This made it easier to lay them to rest in the trash without feeling guilty. I kept a few of the more resilient, intact figures, including Long Dawgy Dawg. I also kept the anatomically correct ceramic frogs that fascinated me as a child. That was the other thing my mother collected: frogs.
Mary sent three large boxes of stuff and none of it was worth the price of shipping. Along with the frogs and the dachshunds, I kept my baby book and a book of short pieces from a high school English class. I kept some photos of people we used to know. And I’m now wearing the wedding band that my mother kept from her marriage to my father. The rest went in the trash. My kids howled with laughter at the assortment of absurd items in those boxes. “That’s your inheritance” they joked. I couldn’t help but laugh along with them. And I realized that the fact I can laugh at the absurdity is my actual inheritance. There are few things more valuable than finding the humor in a painful situation.