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  • by Carolyn Lackey

The Things We Keep

I'm a hopelessly sentimental old fool. After losing my sister to cancer 20 years ago, I learned about sentimentality the hard way. The box of chocolate covered cherries that she gave me a few weeks before she passed away lived at the very back of the top shelf of my closet for longer than I'd like to admit. Once a person is gone, everything that has even the tiniest connection with a memory gains extravagant meaning. Kathy and I shared the love for cheap chocolate covered cherries - the kind with the sweet pink clear syrup inside that runs down your chin if you try to take a nibble instead of popping the whole thing in your mouth. We shared a laugh when I unwrapped that last box. "I'm not sharing!" "Yes, you are!"

Five or more years had passed since the gifting. The clear wrap still clung to the box. The point of ridiculousness had been reached and surpassed ten times over. I couldn't bear the thought of marching the precious chocolatey-cherry bites to the trashcan under the sink in my kitchen. That was the trashcan for discarded Pop-tart rinds, empty Macaroni and Cheese boxes and cold, damp tea bags. This treasure merited a formal burial at sea or the ceremonious spreading of its chocolate-covered ashes in the front yard of our childhood home on East Neal Street complete with a "ride by" of barefoot children on vintage banana bikes.

One day, I gathered all of good sense and mustered my courage and asked my sweet husband to dispose of the Kathy Candy some day when I was not at home. Further, I asked him to never tell me when the deed had been done. He gets me. I had to make the same request when my bridal bouquet began to rot in our tiny apartment fridge soon after our honeymoon. This don't-ask-don't-tell disposal plan has served me well over the years.

Meems, too, is a sentimental old fool. When we dismantled her life in Waco before moving her to Lubbock, hundreds of keepsakes were unearthed. Student art from her days as a school teacher, lists of every single tiny thing that Santa brought to my siblings and me every Christmas until we were full grown adults, carefully boxed baby teeth and locks of baby hair were were found in various closets, drawers and trunks.

As her only surviving child, I became the Keeper of the Memories. Tossing her tax returns from the 70's was child's play to me. I didn't tell her, and she didn't think to ask. On the other hand, the mere thought of letting go of her many handwritten lists and recipes, prom dresses that came to life under the presser foot of her ancient Singer sewing machine, and the ancient cake topper from her wedding cake squeezed my heart muscles unbearably tight. I could not. Would not.

Then, there were these. Valentines from her years as a beloved teacher. They are frail and fragile - drawn from pages torn from Big Chief tablets. By the looks of them, I'd guess that these were crafted by some of her third grade students at Libby Elementary in Carthage, Texas, circa the 1960's.

She held on to them all those years.

She was loved. She was "beauiful."

Happy Valentine's Day, "Miss Kinzbach."

And, Happy Valentine's Day to you, dear friend!

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