What Will I Leave My Children?

A Kingston resident considers one of life’s big questions.

A Kingston resident considers one of life’s big questions.

Illustration by Andres Moncayo

If the truth be told, I never thought of the words “legacy” or “immortality” until I reached and passed my 45th birthday. Somehow, until then, I considered the part of me which I gave to my children an ongoing, everyday sort of thing.

That particular birthday coincided with a move from our house in Brooklyn to a new home in the country. The move brought with it the traditional trauma of sorting out our “stuff.” It was interesting that we found a common thread amongst the items we “absolutely could not abandon.” Because it wasn’t everything that had monetary value but, rather, those with sentimental value.

Conscientiously, I worked my way room to room, drawer by drawer. Finally, I came to the sewing room, which was left for last because it contained so many items. In that room, I was reminded of my mother’s legacy to me and I began to think of my legacy to my children. Piled high in the closet were shoe boxes, coffee cans, and cardboard cartons filled with pieces of elastic, hooks, trimming, lace bits, yarn, ribbon, and buttons… hundreds of buttons.

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I spread a sheet of newspaper on the carpet, and coffee can by coffee can, box by box, carton by carton, spilled their contents onto the floor. In front of me enfolded a sort of historical map of my mother. Memories of her entwined with my yesterdays. There was the lace trimming she had cut from the hem of my prom dress; there, the shiny black buttons she had saved from my first grown-up coat; and there, rickrack from a school play costume she had made for me. There, too, was a piece of her wedding veil and a feather from the hat she wore to my grandfather’s funeral. So delicately wrapped, one crochet flower left from the blanket she had stitched for my firstborn. The instructions were there, too. Perhaps my daughter would use them one day… little bits of things, each with its own memory attached.

It should have been an easy job. Instead, it became hours of work. Would I need this? Would I need that? I held, touched, and smelled each piece. Finally, after a long while, I lovingly replaced each of the items into its respective box. I will use the buttons, someday. I will need the trimming on something. Certainly, there will be a place for the elastic and the ribbon. Along the way and somewhere through the years, each container will make its contribution from my mother’s legacy.

When we moved from our home in Woodstock to a house in Kingston, I repeated the entire process. Once settled in each new house, every so often, I would “find” something I needed. Through the years I add something to those boxes… a new button, a new piece of trimming.

I realize that these gifts will be my legacy, too. My mother’s things and mine will one day be combined. After I’m gone, my children will sit on the floor, spread out some newspapers and carefully, lovingly, begin to empty the contents and sort through their legacy.

Judy Lewis is a collagist, a poet, and a proud grandmother of seven. She lives in Kingston with her husband, Jon. 

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