They Left Us Everything

 I just finished reading Plum Johnson’s beautifully written memoir They Left Us Everything. Plum took on the task of going through the twenty-three rooms in her parents’ lake front house after they died. She sorted through their mountains of belongings. As she read hundreds of old letters, sifted through the contents of an attic crammed with  trunks, and prepared antique furniture and memorabilia to be divided up between her and her brothers, she learned so much she never knew about her parents and their fascinating lives. The experience also helped her process her relationship and feelings for both her mother and father.
they left us everythingPlum Johnson reaches the conclusion that as people age they need not clean up and sort through all their belongings. They should leave that task to their children who will find it therapeutic. Sifting through all their parents’ things will help children learn about family history and reflect on family relationships.
I don’t think I agree with Plum. She spent sixteen months living in her parents home and cleaning it out. Most children don’t have that kind of time or the financial and personal independence to dedicate to such a task. book table selkirk thrift storeI work at a thrift store and when I am unpacking boxes donated from a deceased person’s home I frequently find all kinds of personal papers, cards, letters, souvenirs, autographed and marked books, and family photos. More often than not I think the deceased person’s family disposes of things in as quick a way as possible. Few bother to do the kind of slow and detailed examination of family heirlooms and memorabilia that Plum did. In the process valuable family memories are lost. 

Silver letter holder, ink well and stamp holder I inherited from my maternal grandmother. She told me it was a Christmas gift from her sister in

Silver letter holder, ink well and stamp holder I inherited from my maternal grandmother. She told me it was a Christmas gift from her big brother Henry in 1911 when she was nineteen years old. 

I think it is better to keep your belongings to a minimum so your children aren’t left with a gargantuan clean up when you die. It is important though to find ways to preserve family memories in stories you write down or share orally with your children and grandchildren while you are still alive. Give them family treasures and tell them the stories related to them while you are still living.

Although I didn’t agree with Plum Johnson’s conclusion I did love her well written book and delighted in learning about her colorful parents along with her. The book includes family photos which is something I always enjoy.

Plum's family lived on Victoria Peak. I took this tram up to the peak many, many times when I lived in Hong Kong.

Plum’s family lived on Victoria Peak. I took this tram up to the peak many, many times when I lived in Hong Kong.

As well Plum writes about the years her family lived in Hong Kong. Since I also lived there I could identify with the places and people she wrote about.  Thanks to my friend Esther for recommending this excellent book. 

Other posts……..

I’m a Shop Girl and I Love It

A Lament for Letters

Sons and Mothers

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Family

One response to “They Left Us Everything

  1. I very much enjoyed this book too (noted it at my blog as well) and totally agree with your assessment of her conclusion. As you say, if one had time to do that kind of detailed search and inventory, it might be therapeutic but one rarely has. Plus the death/demise of a parent often coincides with one’s own move into an older stage in life. What you see coming in at the thrift shop is interesting. — I think it wiser to do the work of sorting, review, looking back oneself, if possible –not only to make things easier for the children but also to “live well” one’s own last years, perhaps doubling down on gratitude, perhaps working through unresolved matters, etc. Not leaving a mess! — Anyways, thanks for the post, always enjoy your take on books and the world around you!

    Liked by 1 person

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