By Mary Lu Everett
I had finished sorting through all my family photos and actually wasn’t thinking about my mother. I was focused instead on choosing the next project I might tackle while “sheltering in place”.
It was then that I remembered the box tucked under the bottom shelf in my studio- one large brown cardboard box in which I had stored all of Mom’s work on the family ancestry. An unopened sealed box which has been in my possession for over 13 years.
After Dad died and Mom was settled into an assisted living facility, my siblings and I gathered together in Southern California at the home our parents had lived in for more than 32 years. Our job that long weekend was to divide up all the family “jewels”, memorabilia, furniture, cars, etc. and clean out the house to prepare it for sale.
There were never any arguments, just laughter and hard work. Our brothers were shaking their heads at the prospect of having to clean out the garage which was stuffed with all of Dad’s benches, saws, woodworking tools, ladders. My three sisters and I were working inside the house and soon started trying to shame one another into taking home the porcelain teacups, the huge collection of Hummel figurines and sets of fragile dishes that were displayed in Mom’s large glass cabinet- things which we all knew had been special to her but which none of us really wanted.
As part of our negotiations, my sister Betsy agreed to gather up all the family photos and “eventually” look through them and digitize the ones she felt were worth saving. My sister Kathy already had a few Hummel figurines so we convinced her to take all of Mom’s collection home. In turn- I agreed to load all of Mom’s family history paperwork and Ancestry books into a big box and take it back home with me. The only promise I made was that someday I would sort through everything and try to put the pieces back together for the next “someone”, a grandchild or great-grandchild perhaps, to pick up where Mom had left off.
We all knew she was unpredictable, secretive and very agitated in the years preceding Dad’s death. She was manic-depressive all of her life, a condition which got worse as she aged. And I had witnessed her anger over our lack of interest in our ancestry. At times, I saw her tossing her folders carelessly about, throwing paperwork on the floor, hiding and scattering her work in her wake.
But I also felt that Mom would not have destroyed all of her ancestry work– despite her frustration that no one in the family seemed to care about it or was interested in hearing about her discoveries.
And yes, I knew when I put the box in my car that her files would be a mess, but I also knew that one day I would be willing to sort through her paperwork, try to piece together loose ends and put all of her ancestry collection in more suitable files so they, in turn, could be passed down to the next generation.
Now thirteen years later that day has come. It is time for me to learn more about my mother.
I drag the large sealed box out of my closet and open it.
Mary Lu Everett
I was born in Los Angeles and was the second child in a large Catholic family of seven children. When my older sister was in kindergarten and learning to read and write I was jealous. I begged my mother to teach me and she did. Since then I have never stopped writing and have always had a pencil and notebook at hand. I feel that I was born to write.