My great aunt passed away in November at the age of 93. A wonderful woman we all loved dearly, she was my grandmother's only sister and her death came unexpectedly eighteen months after our beloved grams. We had fully expected to spend Thanksgiving with her but alas, it was not meant to be.
My great aunt had two very good friends, a married couple and the husband is the executor of her estate and my mom, her sister, my sister and I will be meeting them next week to go through my great aunt's things and bring home those things we want.
I'll admit it feels weird to go through someone's things after they're gone. It just feels like an invasion of privacy. My great aunt, if she was still here, would laugh it off. She was one of those individuals who felt very strongly, "You can't take it with you". Her Catholic faith was far much more important to her than any material object. She often asked us what of her things we wanted, and we just had a difficult time with that because well...how do you tell someone "I want this..." and "I want that...". However that's how she was and she was very close to the four of us and of course she adored her only nieces and wanted my mom and my aunt to have the things she cherished most as well as anything she possessed that they could use or would make their lives easier.
Most important to us above all are the family heirlooms, things that were passed down from my great grandmother and her family before her, items that came over from Sicily when my great grandmother emigrated to NYC in the late 1890s. These are things that mean a lot to us. And then comes the usual--kitchen items, garage, linens, furniture, odds and ends. My great aunt had a beautiful home and she and her husbands (her first, my dear great uncle died from Alzheimers after 58years of marriage and the second was Bill, a retired Navy Chief and dear man, who died of cancer a few years ago) had very nice things. And of course they could because they never had children! Seriously though, beautiful things don't mean anything to me. I'm more about sentimentality and functionality. I take great pride in things passed down through the family and I'm all about things you can use for your household, things that don't just look nice, but are functional. My great aunt, who was a very social woman who loved to host dinner parties, believed in both beauty and functionality and she was a very practical woman. She didn't believe in an item going to waste. She would want the things she used every day to go on and be used again and again until they were no longer functional.
Of all the things I could have of hers, what I really want---besides family heirlooms and her craft collection (my great aunt was a naturally-gifted artist!), the wall-mounted flat screen and a few other kitchen items and linens is her....
...bright red toaster oven and matching coffee pot!
Sounds crazy, right? Every appliance in her kitchen was bright red and I have not a single red appliance to my name. And that lipstick-red toaster oven and coffee pot (a red so bright it matched perfectly that red lipstick she and grams wore most of their lives) will look so completely out of place in my kitchen and yet every time I see them that I can't help but think of her. I'll think of the exact shade of toast she preferred, how precise she was about making the perfect cup of coffee, how meticulous she was about keep her appliances cleaned and maintained. Whatever other red things I can bring home, I will. And eventually I will probably wind up decorating my entire kitchen around those appliances.
And I'm sure my great aunt would've approved!
We all miss her very much and I've been dreading this trip because she died at home and the last time we saw her there, she was alive and then there's the awkwardness of dividing up her things. But I just have to keep in mind that yes, they are just things and if she could read this right now she'd laugh and dismiss my silly notions and reassure me as always,"you can't take it with you."