It was the slipstream of spring light that caught my eye.
The tableau of treasures was inadvertent.
I’m still unpacking from the move I had to orchestrate from our house–more accurately, my husband Jim’s beloved home–after our loss. Slowly, family belongings have begun to settle into new spots, but I’m not much of a decorator. (It was unadulterated irony when Jim dubbed me a domestic goddess.) I had set several things on top of a bulky piece of furniture in my room without thinking much about the array.
When we were about to move, three of my children were home and another daughter was across the globe with only a backpack to hold a small stock of worldly belongings. I had them grab something to hand carry to the new house.
From the blue-flecked gray granite kitchen counter his father had selected, one son wordlessly picked up a clear square vase filled with cobalt blue glass marbles. It held sprays of dried wildflowers and baby’s breath from an arrangement my parents had sent for Jim’s memorial service.
His brother’s most treasured memento, I discovered, is a battered baseball, a game ball signed by all of his eighth-grade teammates soon after our son had finally returned from a harrowing hospital stay. My son remembers the kindness. I flash back to those awful eight days, then forward to Jim’s diagnosis, when I sobbed irrationally to my friend Judy. “I thought nothing could be as bad as when he”–our son–“was sick.”
Our younger daughter carried the Les Paul–her father’s guitar, which he’d acquired when he was a teenager. It was safely ensconced in butterscotch velvet in the sturdy black case he’d bought shortly before we met.
“We could sell this,” he had mused not long after he was diagnosed.
“No!” my daughter and I had cried out in tandem.
The Les Paul provided the accompaniment when she sang a song dedicated to him at an evening prayer service after he had died.
Hey, little girl
Black and white and right and wrong
Only live inside a song
I will sing to you
You don’t ever have to feel lonely
You will never lose any tears
You don’t have to feel any sadness
When you look back on the years
How can I look you in the eyes,
And tell you such big lies?
The best I can do is try to show you
How to love with no fear
My little girl
You’ve gone and stole my heart
And made it your own
You’ve stole my heart
And made it your own
Some of the same dried flowers my son had picked up to transport by hand ended up in my accidental tableau, tea-dyed buds glowing white where the sun dallied above them. They ended up in a basket within a basket: the smaller one is oval, a filigree of curled wicker. My cousin Jacobina carried the small basket when she was a bridesmaid at our wedding and it held a tussy mussy of summer buds that was presented to my beaming grandmother, who is now long gone.
The outer basket made its first appearance when cousin Chris dispatched not one but two glorious summer bouquets to our first home days after our first son was born. When the flowers’ brilliant lavender and yellow had been exhausted, the basket remained on a dormant wood stove whenever the house did not need warming.
In our next home, the same basket held birthday gifts friends brought to Jim at a surprise party for what we all knew would be his last birthday, when our home was brimming with family and friends and music and laughter. It had rarely been as full. Now, in our new home, it holds cards and letters sent to us after Jim died.
My eyes travelled to the left when I re-examined the picture I’d taken.
My treasures, you might say.
It’s the refrain to Guy Clarke’s “Step Into This House,” performed by Lyle Lovett:
Step inside this house girl
I’ll sing for you a song
I’ll tell you ’bout just where I’ve been
It shouldn’t take too long
I’ll show you all the things that I own
My treasures you might say
It couldn’t be more than ten dollars worth
But they brighten up my day
To the baskets’ left is a stack of small white ceramic bowls tied with raffia. I realized I’d bought them on the July day that remains our wedding anniversary, when I had ducked inside a store for a respite from summer heat on my wistful annual visit to the church where we’d been married. The bowls are imprinted with intricate patterns reminiscent of the lace on the antique wedding dress that had been loaned to me for the ceremony.
Just behind the bowls is a smoky blue piece of stemware that I bought for the new house. I don’t buy things in sets anymore.
Just to the left is the bowl that drew my attention to this assortment in the first place. It is actually a lantern of sorts, though I’ve never lit the wick within. I picked it up in Brunswick, Maine, just after dropping off one of my sons at school for the first time after his father died. Ocean blue and the soft green of sea glass are blended into its swirling glass folds. The undulating glass catches light just as the sea sometimes does, scattering glints of green and gold among seafoam sparkles.
Hold this piece of glass
Up to the light shining through the door
It’s a prism glass, I found it on the road
Can’t you see that tiny rainbow
It’s not really a prism I guess
It just broke in a funny way
I was on my way from Houston
I was headed to L.A.
Next to that is a glimpse of a ceramic bowl I painted over the course of several weeks and gave to Jim one Christmas. Inside is an Ark under clear skies on a post-storm sea; outside is a panorama of sea creatures. On the inside rim I used a tiny brush to paint a Coleridge quote: “The sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out: At one stride comes the dark; With far-heard whisper o’er the sea, Off shot the spectre-bark.”
Leaning against the wall is the edge of a photograph of our little girl, then about to graduate from high school. She had just turned sixteen, wearing the costume for one of the ever-growing number of performances he did not live to see.
That picture hanging on the wall
Was painted by a friend
He gave it to me all down and out
When he owed me ten
It doesn’t look like much I guess
But it’s all that’s left of him
And it sure is nice from right over here
When the light’s a little dim
The entire assortment resides atop an old honey-hued Scandinavian dresser that Jim found in a shop on Charles Street in Boston, a stone’s throw from both the tiny apartment where we first lived when we were married and the hospital where we learned his life would soon end.
The things one carries from place to place can have no objective value at all. Jim, like our peripatetic daughter, always travelled light. He carried a flattened penny with its own story.
You never know where you’ll find, or what will come to be, a treasure.