What if you could place everything that means or has meant anything to you in one box? What might it contain? Seriously, this is a legit question. I hate to break the news to you, but IF you live long enough and become frail enough to wind up in a nursing home some day, you won’t take anything with you except your most prized possessions. And if you’re really smart, you probably shouldn’t have anything of significant monetary value in your room, one you most likely will share with another resident, because it may turn up missing. Furthermore, once you leave this earth, it’s unlikely any of your family members will want to sift through all your journals, read all your mail, or sort through all your knick-knacks, unless they think there’s a diamond in there somewhere.
So, due to my mother’s persistence, I accompanied her to attend my Great Aunt Carrie’s funeral awhile back. Initially, I was reluctant to make the trip, an eight-hour drive each way. But, I felt a certain call of duty to go. I’m so glad I did because of what happened before the service began. But first a bit about Carrie.
Carrie Alice Olson, a Norwegian descendant, was born on December 28, 1910 and raised with five siblings on a farm in Calamus, Iowa. She taught kindergarten for over forty years, including organizing two kindergartens. She was also a radio storyteller for the Association for Childhood Education (A.C.E.) and a Secretary of the Kindergarten Division of Illinois State A.C.E. She never married, and outlived her siblings (including my grandmother, Gladys Hoff), dying at the age of 102 on July 19, 2013.
Carrie’s pastor, Sarah Kretzmann, noted at the funeral that she had more fun writing Carrie’s funeral message than that of any other parishioner. We soon discovered why as she cited many of the notable events in history that occurred each month in 1910 including:
- January: The first Aviation Meet was held in the U.S.
- February: Boy Scouts of America was founded.
- March: The first filmed version of Frankenstein came out.
- April: Haley’s Comet was visible from the earth.
- May: The Union of South Africa was created.
- June: The ballet The Firebird by Stravinsky was premiered in Paris, bringing its composer to fame.
- July: Jack Johnson defeated James Jeffrey in a heavyweight championship, sparking racial riots across the nation.
- August: Florence Nightingale died.
- September: The fastest professional baseball game in history took place in a Southern Association game in Atlanta, concluding 32 minutes after it began.
- October: Henry Ford celebrated the 100th auto sale.
- November: Leo Folsto, Russian author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, died.
- December: Carrie Alice Olson was born.
Sarah also recalled a witticism while visiting Carrie in the nursing home where she resided.
“Carrie, I can’t remember if you are 102 or 103,” Sarah apologized.
“Does it really make any difference?” Carrie quipped.
So, back to the funeral. Just before it began, I went to the basement to watch my mother, my uncle, and their two cousins finish sorting through Carrie’s remaining possessions. There was one box left that nobody was interested in. I made a last-second decision to take it with me, just in case there were any significant family photos that might have gone unnoticed.
The next day, I pored through the fragmented contents, surprised at what I discovered. The following poem expresses both my findings and my sentiments about the experience.
I conclude with three posthumous lessons from my very special great aunt.
- Nobody will get your ducks in a row like you. Do it yourself before somebody does it for you. Write down your life story. And give the things that mean most to you to the people you feel will appreciate them the most.
- There is no time like the present to make the effort to get to know people. You might find they are one of the jigsaw puzzle pieces that complete the final product of who you are and what you were meant to experience. Perhaps you are the same for them.
- Everything matters, but not everything remains. Invest in what matters.