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The Gift You Need

As promised, an update:

I reached out to Katie Wilson Meade’s granddaughter Tuesday morning.

She responded within a few hours — positively — and is willing to share information and (get this):

Photos! Of! Emmett! Wilson!

Photos that (in all probability) are those I have not seen! Maybe he’s smiling in them! Or, not posed!

I spent the better part of yesterday trying to calm myself enough to write an appropriate response back, without gushing all over the place, without weeping with appreciation and gratitude.

And then, I had to get over feeling intimidated writing to someone I consider a talented writer. Seriously.

I am truly grateful that she wishes to share this information with me. I only hope that I can reciprocate in some way, with information she may not have. (Minimally, she gets a big mention in the acknowledgements section of the book.)

Another point for our program of ‘not giving up before the miracle happens.’

And if any of my students are reading this: Another point for putting time, thought, and effort into your writing product. Katie’s granddaughter and I now have a dialog — you have no idea how thrilled I am to be able to write that. Yes!


Katie Wilson Meade and her husband Emmett Meade, about 1932, Charlottesville, Virginia. Emmett Meade was also Katie and Emmett Wilson's first cousin.

Katie Wilson Meade and her husband Emmett Meade, about 1932, Charlottesville, Virginia. Emmett Meade was also Katie and Emmett Wilson’s first cousin.

For almost three years, I’ve believed that of all Emmett’s siblings, he was closest to his sister, Katie.

One thing I know is that Katie’s granddaughter doesn’t have Emmett’s scrapbooks. I feel certain she’d have told me.

But, because Emmett and Katie were close, I feel that if I study Katie, I’ll still get to know Emmett a little better. Katie might have voiced her concern or frustration about Emmett in her writing, for instance. Hopefully, there’s something in there about Emmett, or, her thoughts and reflections about Emmett. That would be wonderful.

Speaking of reflections, Katie’s granddaughter is an excellent writer. I find her style to be natural, thoughtful, streamlined.

I read one of her stories this weekend, in which discussed clearing out her deceased parents’ belongings. She asked how she could divest her family’s belongings and still honor the memory; still preserve the treasured memories and stories?

I understand that: My own father is downsizing a collection of belongings dating back seven decades; five of which were spent with my mother.

Mom, 1962. This was her engagement photo.

Mom, 1962. This was her engagement photo.

Since the death of my mother, my father has sent me and my sister boxes and boxes of keepsakes my mother treasured — and while I appreciate having them, most of the boxes sit in my basement storeroom, still packed six years later, because I have no idea what to do with the ‘stuff:’ Photograph albums, scrapbooks, my mother’s ruby glass tea set she had as a child, ancient, well worn and loved books that have been on my father’s shelves for decades.

I don’t have a place for most of what is in the boxes at the moment. Honestly, some of the stuff I will likely not keep, but: I don’t want to just get rid of things, because I also want to preserve the memories and stories attached to the ‘stuff.’

The best way I know to preserve the memories and stories is to write about them. So, I started putting together a collection of memories and stories about my mother (and my relationship with her) a few weeks after she died in 2009. I haven’t worked on it much since then. It has been hard not only because I haven’t had much time (my youngest son was born 10 days after my mother died), but also because my mother and I had a fractious relationship. We just did not get along well, even though we both tried to at different times.

It is painful to remember my interactions with her; rarely we had what I’d call a regular conversation. Toward the end of her life, she and I tried to repair things between us, but it felt forced most of the time, and then, in her last year, she was on so many different painkillers that she wasn’t herself anyway. No one could talk to her by then.

I wish it had been different; it just didn’t work out that way.

Remembering this failed relationship is difficult for me. Right after she died, and my dad started sending boxes, I felt that seeing her things around me would just make the mourning process that much more difficult.

Also: My sobriety was also relatively new and fragile at that time — I was in pain. I wanted to escape it. My best thinking at the time was to keep her things in boxes. I’d deal with them later, when I felt stronger, less fragile.

And so, when I think about Emmett’s family and the question of preserving his ‘stuff’ after he died (there wasn’t much, according to his older brother, Cephas, in a letter dated June, 1918), I wonder if family members felt relief; as in, they were just simply glad Emmett’s struggle living his life was over? That because he had an unhappy ending, that it was best just to let his stuff go, too; the idea that his belongings around would recall him and the sad ending of his life?

I empathize with what I think some of his family members and friends probably did with Emmett’s things: Put them in a box somewhere, because seeing them meant reliving painful events.

Time passed, and eventually, people forgot about them. Decades later, someone else might have found Emmett’s letters, scrapbooks, documents, and, not knowing or remembering who Emmett was, simply discarded them.

My mom’s ending was sad, too. But I hold on to her things for now. You see, my mom had a great relationship with my oldest daughter; they were two peas in a pod. My daughter will likely want my mother’s keepsakes. She still speaks of her now and again, with fondness. It has been six years since my mom’s death; my daughter was sad about it for a long time, and it troubled her, remembering my mom.

With the passage of time, she can now remember my mother with less pain, and with some laughter over some joke they shared. My daughter is an artist as was my mother; my daughter likes to look at my mother’s sketchbook now and then, and appreciates it, without sadness. I, too, find that I can look at look at my mother’s things now, with less sadness, less regret.

I don’t ever believe that the sadness and regret will ever completely go away, though; and I’ve come to understand that’s OK. I look at the remnant feelings as important reminders of what could happen in the relationship I have with my daughter.

Not exactly the gift I wanted out of the mess that was my relationship with my mother, but, it turns out this is the gift I need in my life.

And for that, I can honestly say, with deep feelings of gratitude and love, thank you to my mother.


Categories: Addiction Family The Writing Life

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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