My mother in law is a collector.
Mismatched crockery, linen, crystal, small pieces of rope tied together to make a longer length…
Fifty percent annoying, fifty percent admirable.
She’s from that practical generation.
The generation that understands hard work and knows what it’s like to save and wait for every possession.
The generation with an innate sense of frugality and of worth.
A strange item that my mother in law keeps has morphed, over the years, into a rather odd collection.
Remembrance cards – the little memorial keepsakes that are handed out at funerals.
She has hundreds but displays just a handful – they’re taped to the inside walls of a glass-fronted cabinet, in her kitchen.
Greek immigrants to Australia formed solid bonds in those early years and together they built strong communities. Growing up, we have always known elderly Greeks – we’d call them θεία and θείο, Aunt and Uncle, an extension of the family. As the years passed on, they did too – I’ve often accompanied my parents to funeral services. I have a distinct and early memory of hugging my mother’s leg at a burial, my child’s mind silently questioning why the coffin was going downwards, when heaven was clearly up.
More often than not, the local Greek newspapers have entire pages devoted to death and memorial notices – quarter page photographs with a biography detailing the village in which they were born, their work in Australia and the names of their partner and children. It’s a rite of passage in the Greek community, it is customary to attend the funeral of someone you knew. Our religion is dutiful in its commemoration of the dead and so is our culture.
Koliva is a symbolic wheat recipe that is blessed and served at memorial services.
My mother in law’s remembrance cards are an offbeat assortment of the dead. The photographs on some of her little cards are of young people, others are middle-aged but most are elderly. They are relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbours and compatriots.
People she knew, lived with and loved.
She looks in this cabinet every morning as she takes her pills and countless times throughout the day, her gaze drift through the glass door.
A steadfast reminder of mortality, the brevity of our existence and the importance of all we are left with – our memories.
I learnt from my mother in law to keep remembrance cards. They’re in my wardrobe, in a little cardboard box. With each passing I attend, I add to my collection. To me, they are primary evidence I can one day show my children – each card reperesents a life and each life has a moral to its story.
There were people before us.
People who led rich, abundant lives.
Some were sick, others were killed and some just grew old.
Value the people in your community and you too, will be valued.
The other day, I jovially asked my mother in law why she keeps all those cards.
She hesitated, let out an uncomfortable laugh and then said that she just can’t throw them away.
Neither can I.
I have never lost someone exceptionally close to me but I wonder, if that time comes, will I tape their remembrance card to my kitchen cupboard? Will someone tape mine to theirs?
Do you keep mementos? How do you, not forget?
Linking up with Miss Jess and #IBOT