When Uncle Larry and Aunt Roz died, I was part of the family team to clean out their homes. We found things we never needed to see. In fact, I never needed to see pictures that blinded me for days.
When I had to clean out family friends’ final effects, I had to surrender an unregistered fire arm.
I was scared to clean out Mom and Dad’s house. Because private lives are private until death. And while I am somewhat inured to kinky facts about relatives, I would have a hard time processing that information about my parents.
Maybe my siblings cleaned that stuff out. If they did I am grateful. Because all I have seen is tarnished silver and keepsakes amassed over the decades.
We found the manifest for my parents voyage on the QEII in the late 1950s. The dinner menus and the passengers at their dinner table each night.
We found our letters from camp.
We found our art projects from Kindergarten (ok, my sister’s hung in the Lever House lobby on Park Avenue in the 1960s).
We found commendations and letters of recommendations and war commendations.
We found 100 year-old pictures with Yiddish on the back. Mom was the repository for all family pictures because many of her aunts and uncles outlived their children.
We found a scary looking dude with an old-world kipah who turned out to be our great-grandfather. (We still refer to him as Super Scary Man with the Beard.) [Great-grandpa Eli to others.]
I recognize a lot of the people in the photos. Osmosis, I guess. Maybe I am channeling Mom. Mom always knew. Even for those on Dad’s side. Dad would say, “You can’t prove by me.”
Thank G-d Mom knew. And now, my siblings and I have to know. We have to dig deep into the recesses of our memories.
Because if we don’t remember, no one will. And then, Aunt Fanny, Uncle Lou, crazy Cousin Eli, Uncle Lazar, Aunt Jenny, etc., will never live again in someone’s memory.
We are now the keepers of two generations of memory. There is no time to waste in passing those memories on to the next generation.
Lest we forget. Because then members of our family — including , after we are gone, our own grandparents — will become part of the nameless sea of souls that came in and out of the world with no one to claim them.
Every time I see a picture in my parents’ house — and which I will bring to mine — I will remember those in that picture.
I will claim them as my own.
Because I am part of the unbreakable chain they started.
Because if I don’t remember them, then they will truly die.
And I hear Mom’s voice telling me that that can never happen. And so it won’t.
It just won’t.