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first person

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Illustration by Drew Shannon

Five years ago, my husband and I retired and moved from Mississauga to Ottawa. Not a move of great distance, but when you have 45 years of accumulated possessions there are challenges to be dealt with.

At that point in our lives, we had lost several family members who had seen fit to bequeath us their worldly “treasures.”

As the pandemic kept us housebound for weeks on end, I decided to have a look through some of the boxes that remained unopened and stored in the basement.

After examining my findings, I have come to the conclusion that the ancient Egyptians had it right: Bury the dead’s treasures with them.

My late sister, for instance, had a penchant for painting wildlife. I doubt she’d ever seen an elephant or lion, but there they were, frolicking in the jungle, climbing palm trees and cavorting across numerous canvases. Those canvases are now wrapped, numbered and stored in the basement. I loved my sister, but having various forms of wildlife staring down at me from the walls just isn’t appealing.

Then there’s my mother’s collection of dishes. These were the dishes that were reserved for company or Christmas. The plates are small, they are not microwavable or dishwasher safe. They are quite pretty, a square shape instead of the traditional round, with delicate blue flowers around the rims. I can’t help but imagine Mom sailing into the afterlife with the 12-piece setting, two platters and gravy boat.

Where are they now? They are stacked neatly in a somewhat-overflowing cabinet in my living room.

And don’t get me going on cranberry glass. My mother-in-law had a collection of the ruby-red relics, which she prized. She took great care of them, and guess who has them now?

Another sister had a passion for collecting Royal Doulton figurines. There were five girls in my family. If you’re not familiar with Royal Doulton figurines, you should know each figure has a name stamped on the base. My late sister had collected figurines with my name and those of my four sisters. While I’m not exactly a fan of their sometimes simpering attitudes, I think the one named Linda bears a remarkable resemblance to yours truly with her delicate hands and feet and her bosom spilling from her bodice. I now have the girls displayed in a curio cabinet I had to buy for that purpose.

Now, here is a tip: Never, ever compliment anyone, be it a relative or friend, on their collectibles. A simple “that’s nice” or “I’m glad they give you pleasure” will suffice. I’ve learned that if you extend an overly effusive compliment, you may end up with some or all of that someone’s treasures.

Of course, I can see how people accumulate all manner of things. I grew up on a dairy farm in eastern Ontario. We had pure-bred Holstein Friesians. I loved their black-and-white, jigsaw-shaped colouring and their gentle nature. I remember two in particular: Agamemnon and Menelaus (a.k.a. Aggie and Minnie). I don’t know whose idea it was to give them those names, especially since they were the names of men in Greek mythology. Dad’s reading material didn’t extend much beyond the United Church Observer.

In later years, I foolishly admired some trinkets resembling Holsteins. Soon my kitchen was a haven for bovine beauties in various poses and serving a number of purposes: some with mouths open to spew milk from their bodies, which resembled a pitcher; others served as spoon rests or receptacles for paper towels. On every birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas, I could be assured of some form of black-and-white cow, be it ornamental or functional.

Glad to say I have finally culled the herd. It had to stop.

Of course, some men are collectors, too. My husband, for example, collects socks. He would probably deny it, but I happen to know he has drawers full of socks for every occasion. They are divided into categories or seasons. He even used to darn his socks, a practice I refused to participate in. This winter, he added battery-operated socks, designed to keep his feet warm.

And my son had a collection of model soldiers when he was young. He would paint them, sometimes using a magnifying glass to get each little detail. He is now grown up. He and his wife live in another country. But I have been given instructions to keep the soldiers. Also, the Hot Wheels and Battle<HH>star Galactica toys are deemed sacrosanct.

I suppose we all have things we’d like to hand down to the next generation or bequeath to special friends. I know some people attach the name of the intended beneficiary to the object meant for them.

Some say you can’t take it with you. I disagree. This line of thinking brings to mind the question: What would I take with me to my final reward? What have I collected over the years that would go with me to the pearly gates? It would most assuredly be my collection of nutcrackers. However, I feel confident someone, here on Earth, would want them. Guess I should start attaching names on my nutters of the intended beneficiaries.

Linda Edwards lives in Ottawa.

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