jayellebee's Blog

September 15, 2012

Bittersweet

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 11:07 pm
Tags: , ,

There are all kinds of chocolate: dark, white, milk, bittersweet.  Decadent temptations for everyone and every occasion.  My personal favorite, milk chocolate, suits my disposition.  I’m happiest when life is sweet, delicate scents hang in the air, tasks respond to a soft touch and minimal fuss.  Mom shared my passion and always kept a stash of chocolate at the ready.

Our family lost Mom a little over two years ago.  Her sudden passing left us with broken hearts and a short time frame to empty her apartment of the routine flotsam and jetsam one acquires over a lifetime.  But in addition, there were forty-some-odd scrapbooks commemorating trips she and Dad had enjoyed in their retirement.

My parents had the travel bug – BAD!  Dad did his best to deplete the world supply of Kodacolor film, and Mom created an annotated scrapbook to preserve the photos every time they returned home.  Every time.  Two book cases displayed nothing but chronologically aligned binders containing not only the glossy photographs, but also coins, maps, menus, miniature flags, swizzle sticks, napkins….  You name it, Mom scrapbooked it.

     These books were a source of entertainment for Mom when she could no longer fly the friendly skies or sail the world’s oceans.  Nothing good on TV?  No problem.  A widow for seventeen years, she spent many pleasant hours reliving her trips, recalling escapades in foreign lands, remembering Dad’s “let’s try this, we may never get back here” attitude.

What to do?  These were not my trips.  Not my memories.  And I didn’t have two empty bookcases.  But I didn’t have the heart to deep-six the books without at least a cursory viewing, either.  Feeling like a thief in the night, I unearthed Mom’s chocolate hoard.  Wouldn’t you know?  Hard, bittersweet nuggets!  How appropriate.  I ate enough to qualify as lunch.

My niece and her two children arrived just as I set to work.  The kids, then aged five and eight, never experienced the joy of knowing their great-grandfather, but they knew “Grandma Jean” well and had no problem recognizing pictures of her.  I gave each of them an empty shoe box and these instructions:  Show me any picture you find of Grandma Jean with a man, and you can keep anything else you discover in the scrapbooks.  Their enthusiasm took the edge off what would have otherwise been a tearful exercise.

The four of us sat on the floor thumbing through pages.  Photos of Mom and Dad went into a sturdy box by my side while the kids liberated lapel pins, beads, mai tai umbrellas and other treasures.  Their frequent cries of excitement raised my spirits.  Their squabbling over trinkets ushered me back to happier days when my sons were little.  The box of rescued pictures overflowed by the end of the afternoon.

     Everything else thudded into a dumpster.  I have to admit, I was guilt-ridden.  But also pragmatic.  These books had served their purpose, it was time to move on.  The box of photos went into my storage room, from where it has nibbled at my conscience ever since.

Dad left this world much too young in 1993.  I have been able to think of him and smile for years now, the pain of loss dulled with time.  But my eyes still glisten when Mom pops into my thoughts.  And yet, today I was ready to revisit the box, determined to sort through and organize the pictures into a new, single-volume version of Mom’s scrapbooks.

Anyone who has ever taken a cruise knows about “formal night.”  Passengers dress to the nines – at least that was the way it was when my parents explored the world – to attend a reception and consume weak cocktails.  These events always involve a requisite photo with the captain.  Smiles abound.  I leafed through scores of similar pictures, pleased to see the name of the ship and the year of the cruise stamped on the edge of each.

But there were other, more personal, endearing glimpses into the past, too.  My parents smiled with The Great Wall of China behind them.  A large group of tourists, petite Mom front and center, posed in front of the Matterhorn – and not the one in Disneyland.  Close to the bottom of my trophy box, an unexpected picture made me laugh out loud.

Dad had a thing about Egypt’s Great Pyramid.  He wrote a paper about the amazing edifice, from an engineering perspective, while a student at Cal.  A personal visit ranked high on his bucket list.  That desire was quenched during a cruise down the Nile in 1979.  I remember asking him about the experience after he returned home.

“The ship’s cruise director,” Dad said, “warned anyone who wanted to ride a camel to the Great Pyramid not to pay the camel driver until he brought us back to the dock.”

“Why?” I asked.

“If the man was paid up-front, he was likely to take the camel back to find another patron while the first was still  inside the pyramid.  We’d end up paying twice – once to get to the pyramid and again to get back to the ship.”

     So there was Dad, looking up at me from inside the box.  He straddled a less-than-cooperative camel, laughing at the camera.   The camel driver running along beside.

“Every time the guy asked me to pay him,” Dad said, “I pretended I didn’t understand.  I’d shrug.  I’d look confused.  Then I’d point toward the pyramid and say, ‘Go, now?’   On the return trip, he was pretty upset with me and made the camel run.  I’ve never bounced so high on such a hard saddle.”

I remembered Dad telling the story, bouncing on his chair, re-creating the scene to the delight of my older two boys who were five and three.

“What did you think of the Great Pyramid?” I asked.

“It’s cramped, you have to walk stooped over, and hot inside,” Dad said.  “And it smells like some creep crept into the crypt and crapped.”

Yep, that was Dad.  Never a man to mince words, he always told it like it was.

I think I’ll go fix myself an ice cream sundae robed in thick, hot fudge with an extra sprinkle of nuts.  Somehow the treat seems appropriate.

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6 Comments »

  1. Hi Joanne, Loved your memoir. I’m facing the same problem with getting rid of photograph, books plus, but not my moms, mine. I also wrote short pieces about people and places in my life and put them into a booklet for my family. Still miss you at CWC. Fran

    Comment by Fran Wojnar — September 16, 2012 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  2. Would have loved to have known your parents. What a hoot! But then, I feel like I already know them, through this blog . . . and through you! I’m raising MY hot fudge sundae in toast to them, too. Liz

    Comment by lizbooks — September 16, 2012 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for giving us permission to throw away the hordes of old photos we collect, paring them down to the meaningful ones. On my most recent move I put aside a box of pictures from a time in my life that was not happy. Wanting to throw them away, my sister said wait. I think they can go now.

    Comment by Chris Pedersen — September 16, 2012 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  4. Joanne, what a creative and loving solution to a problem we all will face.

    Comment by Donna — September 25, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, it sounded like a good idea. But after spending five hours on the new scrapbook today, and still not being finished, I’m beginning to wonder….

      ________________________________

      Comment by Joanne — September 25, 2012 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  5. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for bringing back long lost memories and making the fresh again. That day going through the scrapbooks was hard. But you did exactly the right thing. Those were grandma’s memories not ours. We kept the most important part – the pictures to remember her and grandpa by. And my kids still have their boxes of mementos!

    Comment by Fanny — October 8, 2012 @ 3:43 pm | Reply


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