Perhaps you’ve seen the T-shirt emblazoned with, “I Was A Millionaire Until Mom Gave Away My Baseball Card Collection.”
Well, wait till you hear this story.
My sister and I — but it was mostly her doings — threw away our inheritance. In several big garbage bags, we blithely toted them to the door and tossed them to my brother-in-law standing in the back of his red pick-up. When the back of the pick-up was filled to overflowing, he drove off to the trash dump.
And with him went the greatest treasure that Mama had left us. We didn’t have a clue.
“Look at this,” Louise mumbled in a bit of an aggravated tone. She opened the huge garbage bag and shook her head. “She kept everything.” She started pulling out dress patterns from more than 40 years ago. They were so old that many cost a quarter.
Today’s dress patterns cost anywhere from $16.95 to $35. “We’re throwing these out.”
Something in my gut spoke to me. It said pretty clearly, “Don’t.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know that we should throw these out.”
She turned and looked at me like I’m crazier than I am. “What on earth are you going to do with these old things?” After two weeks of cleaning out and sorting through the mountains of junk that Mama had cherished, Louise was no longer in a cheerful mood. So, despite the fact that one of my New Year’s resolutions had been to always obey my gut feeling, I demurred. I picked out a few and the rest went off to a trashy repose.
It’s OK if you do something stupid as long as you don’t know it. That would not be the case here. By some unkind turn of events, I discovered those ancient, seemingly useless patterns are collector’s items and sell for quite a nice little amount on eBay. I called Louise.
“We’ve made a mistake.”
“That can’t be because we didn’t find anything worth anything.”
“Yes, we did. But we didn’t know it and we threw it away.”
Too bad because my share of what those vintage patterns would have brought would have afforded Dixie Dew the opportunity to attend the finest, private dog school available. Now, she’ll just have to continue to content herself with sitting on the back porch and hoping for an opportunity to chase the cats.
What haunts me now is the thought that each of those patterns represented pieces of her time on earth for more than 50 years and now those pieces are gone.
The things that Mama left behind were a mish-mash collection of what her life had been and pieces of what had meant the most. While there were a few antiques, a gorgeous set of china and a couple of collectible coins, it was mostly the down-home basics of her life: several Bibles, a room full of sewing necessities and many cast-iron skillets.
While other Southern daughters are liable to inherit heirloom silver and crystal, our collection spoke strongly to our simple, more durable heritage. As she often had in life, Mama reached from beyond the grave and provided a good laugh.
Once, many years ago, I had sought to give Mama something of worth that could be cherished and passed down. As a Christmas present, I had given her a fine silver five-piece coffee set. This is how much it meant to her: We found it on a high pantry shelf, in a corner, completely black from tarnish. It had never been used or appreciated.
All seven of her cast-iron skillets, however, were in pristine condition.
I got the message. In our family, the fine metal of choice is cast iron, not silver.
Lest I should forget, I’ll just keep the blackened silver coffee set as a reminder.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.