When our kids were younger, we used to play a memory game in the car to occupy their time. We’d start out by saying, “In my grandmother’s attic I found …” then each person would go around thinking of something new, in alphabetical order, repeating all the previous items. You’ve probably played versions of it yourself. It’s silly, but it went something like, “In my grandmother’s attic I found; an Arthur, a bongo board, chopsticks, a Democratic canvasser, etc.”

Strangely enough, all those things have actually been found in my grandmother’s attic. Though to be fair, it wasn’t an attic per say, but a cupboard or closet of her senior living facility out in Arizona.

My grandfather got married three times, so his three sets of kids range in age from 80 down to their mid 50s. Two of my aunts are pretty close to my own age, whereas my mom and her twin are 30 years older. Those younger aunts are moving my grandma (grandfather’s third wife — the only one I’ve ever known as “grandma”) from one assisted living facility to another. In the process, they’re cleaning out her closets. Us kids, grandkids and great grandkids have been getting emails and phone calls about various accumulated items from the past, asking if we’d be interested in acquiring them.

There was etched glassware, linens from their days in Korea, paintings from when they lived in the Middle East and many odd, assorted things like an old sewing machine or pristine, fur-lined Alaskan slippers (size 7). One of my aunts referred to the process as “sorting through the detritus.” For those of you who scored under 36 on your ACTs (and still remember what your ACT scores were), detritus means pieces, fragments, remains. Yes, I had to look it up too.

My brother and cousin went out to help with the task. I thanked everyone for their endeavors and sent along this note:

It can’t be easy whittling down Grandma and Granddad’s life to their bare, tangible possessions. As we all know, our lives are worth far more — mean so much more — than just the sum of its material parts. Sure, a napkin set from Hong Kong or some slippers from Alaska had meaning for their original gatherers, collectors traveling across the globe. But to us, their descendants, it’s the stories that we’ll accept, keep and display from time to time.

I wonder about that a lot with our own accumulated acquisitions. Will Skye and Taylor’s grandkids care one whit about a Johnny Bench rookie card, a camera I used to photograph the president, a group of moldering paperback books their great grandfather what’s-his-name wrote? Hopefully though, the love that we shared with our kids will pass down across the generations, just like the joy of politics, discussion, helping others and travel was passed down from Grandma and Granddad to us.

Just because we may not have an immediate need for etched water glasses or Aunt Helen’s sewing machine, doesn’t at all mitigate the deeper, far richer hand-me-downs we’ve all received, genetically, intellectually and emotionally.

Here, I paused and had to think about the last bit. There’s a long-standing family story that Granddad was always just near the fringes of world events from the 1940s all the way through the 1970s. Logically — those of us with nothing better to do deduced — our grandfather was a spy. So I added this last, little part.

We all appreciate the work you are doing with Grandma’s stuff. It can’t be easy, rewarding or enjoyable. So thank you for doing this. And let me add as a final note, please disregard my above treatise if you stumble across any of Granddad’s hidden silver or gold doubloons from his days as a foreign operative. I want in!

The note I received back from my aunt just kept to the task at hand and didn’t at all break Granddad’s cover. Though ever since then, there’s been a dark, nondescript van occasionally parked out in our driveway. Is it our old one that my daughter occasionally uses, or does it have a far more secretive …

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