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My mother had to get rid of a lifetime of treasures

After 56 years in the same house, my mother was selling to move into an apartment in an assisted-living facility.

My father had died five years earlier and the house was becoming a burden. Mom had broken her hip the previous spring and could no longer handle the stairs, the garden or the daily maintenance that is required of a homeowner.

The list on the refrigerator of service people - furnace repairman, gardener, appliance service man - rivalled her list of doctors and health-care providers.

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Her biggest concern was not selling the house, but how to dispose of a lifetime of treasures collected over 60 years of marriage and travel.

She could not take them all with her and she could not leave them behind. She did not want to donate them to a charitable organization and she did not want to sell them at a garage sale for strangers to purchase for a fraction of their value. Disposing of her cherished possessions became a cause of stress and sleepless nights.

Always resourceful, my 91-year-old mother devised a course of action. She decided to host a tea and gift party. She invited her children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. She served party sandwiches (crusts cut off, of course), cakes, teas and juice boxes for the younger generation.

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When we got to her house, all her treasures were laid out on display. There were linen tablecloths, sterling silver dishes, servers of every shape and size, crystal bowls, vases and pieces of unknown origin or purpose.

There were sculptures and artworks collected from all over the world, oil paintings and watercolours. There were kitchen and cooking utensils, including an original Mixmaster that my mother had received as a wedding gift in 1946.

Some of the items had been brought by my mother's mother to Canada from Romania when she immigrated in the late 1890s.

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And there were books: cookbooks, novels, histories, classics and so much more. My father was an eclectic reader and had a vast library.

Everyone was told to tour the house and take what they wanted. One of my cousins had always coveted a silver serving platter but felt badly taking it. I told him to bring it home, enjoy it and invite my mother over for dinner, serving her with the platter.

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Everyone had a ball, but the most laughter and tears came over the photographs. My mother had sorted a lifetime of family photos into two dozen dollar-store plastic trays. Everyone chose the pictures that held the most significance for them. There was my uncle's first wedding (which came as a surprise to the children of his second marriage, who didn't know he had been divorced). There were holidays and family gatherings and pets long dead.

We hooted over the fashions and hairstyles. And we couldn't believe what beauties some of our older relatives were in their youth. It's hard to imagine the aunt with grey hair, false teeth and a walker as a babe with a Marilyn Monroe figure in a two-piece bathing suit.

There were pictures of my dad and my uncles in their Second World War uniforms, looking so young and handsome. And there was a group photo of Canadian servicemen. My mother cried as she put names to the faces and recalled the boys who never came back.

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We called to mind family members and friends who had passed away. My cousins and I laughed until we cried as we recounted many "remember when" stories.

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It was an incredible afternoon. No one wanted to leave the warmth of a house that had been the centre of so many happy gatherings and occasions. At dusk the food was gone, the sun was setting and we were still sitting around chatting and reminiscing.

I was so proud of my mother. Many people of her age can't let go of the past or of their material possessions. That day, everyone took home something of great value - fond memories of Aunty Mary and a tangible reminder of her love and generosity.

My mother was thrilled with the whole event. Her beloved treasures will live on in the family for generations to come. She was also able to offer a lesson on the value of giving and sharing.

There was still a lot of stuff to pack up and dispose of before the big move. We had a contents sale that didn't make much money, but did reduce the clutter. What was left unsold we donated to an organization that helps new immigrants get settled.

Mom is now settled in her retirement home. When one of her many nieces and nephews come to visit, they share stories of how lovely her things look in their homes and how much they enjoy having them. This was truly a meaningful gift.

Barbara Ross lives in Toronto.

Illustration by Carole Freeman.

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