I was feeling nostalgic today for my mother's side of the family even before I heard that "Jimmy" had died. Jim was my mother's cousin. I never heard her call him Jim though. She always referred to him as, "My favorite cousin, Jimmy", and if anyone ever spoke of him she'd make sure that they knew that he was her favorite cousin. Even before I read on Facebook that he had passed, I'd been thinking of my grandmother who was Jim's aunt, Ruby.
Ruby Marie Snyder was born in 1912, and like a lot of people who lived through the depression, she had some foibles about things. She didn't hoard useless things like some, fearing that scarcity would increase their value at some unknown future date. She had a far more annoying habit. It always annoyed me, anyway. She would assign different levels of value to her possessions depending on whether or not she considered them to be of high quality, or nice things. The nice things she owned weren't available for use by anyone, not even herself. She kept those things in suitcases in her closet. The nice things I remember most that were off limits were things like dish towels. (We called them tea towels. I guess it resonated of a higher class. I remember making the mistake of calling a "wash cloth" a "wash rag" one time and my mother reminded me that we didn't have rags.)
When I was a child I liked looking in the suitcases. There were wash cloths, hand towels and bath towels, tea towels, sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers. It might have appeared to an outsider to be a peculiar sort of storage for a young women with aspirations of being a bride, but without a proper hope chest. If I ever mentioned using something in one of the cases, she'd say, "No, I'm saving that back for good." Good, meaning that she was saving it for a special occasion as opposed to saving it back forever. She had a white eyelet bedspread, shams and dust ruffle that I coveted. It was the wrong size for my bed, but I'd have love to have had it or one like it. It wasn't ivory or off white, it was the purest, whitest white. The white that you see only when it snows or at the Academy Awards when the movie stars smile. The tea towels that she used were embroidered by her hand with the poems that foretold a child’s fortune by the day they were born. Mother Goose, I believe. “Monday’s child is fair of face. Tuesday’s child is full of grace…”
They were very nice, but maybe the distinction was that she had embroidered them, and they didn't resemble anything you'd purchase at a department store. Maybe that's why they were relegated to everyday use. The towels in the bathroom were not threadbare, but they had lost all of the plush thickness of new ones. Her bedspread was gold and heavily quilted and far too large and heavy to launder regularly, but it was laundered regularly. If cleanliness is next to godliness she is a longtime resident of a well scrubbed and thoroughly tidied heaven.
What caused me to conjure up these memories was my realization that I was doing that with respect to my beads and my pendants when I make jewelry. I finally finished a necklace bearing a pewter cross that I'd purchased months ago. The cross was not particularly expensive and it certainly bore no sentimentality to me. It wasn't an heirloom. It was just, well, "nice". I had been "saving it back for good." My fear was that I'd use it and then discover that I might have made something better with it. It occurred to me that I do the very same thing with beads. I have several boxes of beads that I pass over in my search for a particular color or size of bead because those are my good ones. I'm not going to do that anymore. It will be a hard habit to break. I will use the good beads and when they're gone, if I choose, I'll replace them with more good beads. God knows that every crafter has a stockpile of whatever they craft with. My mother, who is a quilter, has yards and yards of fabric all cut up into little squares. I'm not sure if she passes over the good squares when she lays out a quilt design. She probably does.
Her favorite cousin, Jimmy, did not suffer that odd eccentricity. His side of the Boles family hailed from Arkansas. He had a family in Fayetteville and from what I can tell, was a successful man. I don't know if he was a widower or divorced, but if he thought that Thailand was paradise, he would not save it back for good. Late in his life he did something shocking. He actually acted on an yearning. He longed for an island paradise. Realizing that unlike a tree, he was not rooted to the ground, he moved to Thailand. I know approximately two people who were brave enough to pick up their lives and transport themselves to anywhere farther than the other side of the town they grew up in, let alone half way around the world. Jim met and married a beautiful Thai woman who was, not surprisingly, younger than he was. She cared for him. I could tell.
I’ve never been to a Buddhist funeral before, but it’s evident from the pictures that the multiple ceremonies are incredibly elaborate. In Buddhism death marks the beginning of the cycle of rebirth. The laws of Karma are activated and determine the quality of the deceased’s next life. The family and friends gather to attend ceremonies that impart merit to the life of their departed.
I wonder, if it is your belief that you will return to repeat the cycle, if you abandon all qualms about using up the “good things” in your present life. Either way, it’s important to remember to pull out all of the stops, use the good towels, drink the good champagne, sleep on the good sheets, create with the good beads and live so that the last good thing is nowhere to be found among your possessions. Leave your family and friends, only their memories of you to save back for good.
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