Early in the 1950s, my two bachelor, great uncles bought a ranch in the California desert. My mother, sister and I spent many weekends and summers on the ranch over the years, never thinking it odd that the two uncles had bedroom furniture painted with dainty purple flowers. Nearly fifty years later, after the second of the uncles died, my mother, sister and I drove to the ranch from Oregon to sort through the things they left behind.
The uncles never threw anything away and the outbuildings were filled with memories. The most poignant of memories belonged not to them, but to the people they had bought the ranch from years before. Dan and Helen Lahey had sold the ranch lock, stock and barrel. They left their bedroom furniture with the dainty purple flowers, and many other pieces of furniture. But most remarkably, they left important papers including personal letters, contracts, years’ worth of personal record keeping, and much more. But the piece of paper that haunts me more than anything else is the telegram that begins, “We regret to inform you…”
Their son and only child died at the very end of World War II, weeks short of being able to go home. Besides the telegram, they left much of the evidence of his life there at the ranch when they sold it. Though I never knew him, I have become the caretaker of his memory. He was an artist and I have some of his watercolors. I have a scrapbook with many clippings from magazines of faraway places he dreamed of visiting. He was a cowboy, too, and I have a picture of him sitting on a horse overlooking the ranch. I have letters he sent to his mother from France during the war, assuring her that they would one day drive along the Kern River again, a drive they had enjoyed many times in the past.
I have to think that they left all this evidence of their lives because their hearts were broken. And my heart aches for them and for the young man who did not come home. Even though I never knew this young man, I honor his memory. I am the keeper of his dreams.
Because I believe in remembrance, I read the obituaries everyday. I know that there are those who die without families left to memorialize them or families they have left behind for reasons too sad to think about. So, though I don’t start my day in abject sadness over those who have recently died, I do spend a few minutes respectfully reading about their lives. Yes, I believe in remembrance.