“I was an in-home caregiver for nearly eight years for Thelma. She was in her eighties, had southern roots and was quite a character.
She would have these terrible panic attacks. Since my home was only a few blocks away; she’d call me night or day and I soon became her ‘wahmbulance.’ She would even have the other caregivers call me when they were on duty and she had a panic attack (which ticked off a few other caregivers). I had figured out the best way to get her out of her panic was to ask her questions about her life. For eight years, she told me the sweetest, most joyful, funniest and also heartbreaking stories that were her life. I had grown very close to Thelma by the time she passed away.
She once asked me help her clean out clothing in her closets. She had been a seamstress and had three closets just bulging with beautiful clothing. The task quickly became impossible because every piece of clothing I’d bring out; she’d proceed to tell me entire story about what was happening in her life when she wore that item. If every piece of clothing had a story attached, it would take years to finish the closets. I loved her stories, didn’t want to hurt her feelings but also had to figure out a way to get the job done.
I finally decided to get three different boxes and told her she had 10 seconds to decide on each item of clothing. The boxes were marked as follows: (1) Donate, (2) Sell and (3) Beautiful Stories. We finally made progress and you can guess which box filled up the fastest.
Back to my original story; Thelma passed away one day after my birthday in 2014. Can you believe she promised me she would not die on my birthday because she didn’t want my birthday to have any sad moments associated? As I said, Thelma was a character… a sweet one.
Thelma’s estranged son Richard, asked me to help sort out her home after her passing. As we were going through Thelma’s belongings; I’d run across items that triggered some of her Beautiful Stories. I would relay the stories to Richard as we were sorting her property. Richard was amazed I knew almost everything about his mom’s life. Many of the stories he had never even heard.
During the sorting, he found a small shoebox in the back of a bottom drawer. Upon opening the box, he began shrieking, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, what the heck is this?’ I quickly came over to see why he had reacted so crazy.
Inside the box was a morbid collection of about 20 teeth, clutches of different colored hair in little plastic bags, a bunch of what looked like fingernail clippings in plastic baggies, and a four-inch dried and twisted up stalk of something with a bow-clip attached in the middle.
It took me a moment, but then I remembered Thelma had told me the story about this box. It really hadn’t registered with me when she told me about the box originally, but there it was. I must’ve thought she was joking, but, no, she wasn’t. Asking him to calm down, I told him I knew about the box and suggested we take it into the other room. We took it into the kitchen and sat down over a cup of tea… we really needed a break anyway.
We opened the box together and I began taking out the items one by one. Upon closer inspection, you could see these very tiny markings or labels on almost every item.
The teeth– they were Richard’s baby teeth and his brother Ron’s baby teeth (Ron passed away a year before Thelma) and apparently the tooth fairy had helped Thelma collect each one.
The bags of hair were all labeled differently; My sister Jane funeral 1947, Ron 1st haircut 1950, Rich 1st haircut 1953, Mom funeral 1962, Aunt Mabel funeral 1964, sister Dorothy Jane funeral 1965, etc.
The fingernail clippings were labeled similarly to the bags of hair but included clippings from her late husband, her father and her son Ron also.
The last item was the dried up thing with the bow clip attached. It was labeled My Baby Rose funeral 1947. Thelma’s baby girl Rose, had died within a few hours of her birth in 1947. It was Rose’s actual umbilical cord with a child’s bow-shaped hair clip clamped onto it. Thelma had told me about her baby Rose during one of her panic attack stories. Rich never even knew his mom had a daughter before he and his brother were born. Thelma had never told him. Over his entire life, she never once mentioned he had an older sister. Considering what a prolific storyteller Thelma was, losing her baby daughter must’ve been so painful to her that she never even told her own sons.
While Richard originally recoiled from the strange collection in the box; he now relished in its meaning and why his mother had selected each item to place in that box. Even after her death, Thelma’s still telling new Beautiful Stories. I miss you Thelma, 1926-2014.”