Sorting Through Mom’s Last Bin

It was the last bin where we had deposited Mom’s stuff. The bin had sat in my sister’s garage for about nine years, and we just couldn’t get ourselves to go through it.

Over the years, we had organized a lot of Mom’s things—distributed them among my sister, brother, me, and the grandchildren, and scanned a lot of slides and photos. But not only did Mom keep everything, but our grandmother and their other relatives did as well. So we had an entire century’s worth of things by the time our parents passed away.

So, we had put some things we didn’t know what to do with in one last plastic bin. And nine years later, we decided it was time to open it.

There was a scrapbook with baby shower congratulations from when she was born in 1939. Her birthday cards from when she turned five and six. Grade school report cards. Recital programs from when she sang pieces from La Boheme and Madame Butterfly at 13 and 14.

I put the recital programs in order from the first ones to the last, and sealed them in a Zip-Loc bag.

It was funny to watch Mom’s stage name change over the years. She was born Helen Reed Mills. At some point she became Heléne Micheyl, and at another point she used the name Desirée Heléne Micheyl.

“What did Mamoo think about that, with Mom changing her name every year?” my sister and I wondered.

The recital programs eventually ran out. We had one yearbook from Mount Tamalpais High School when she was 16, but soon after, she dropped out of high school and attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Then it was her stage photos, and letters between Mom and her secretary friends gossiping about people at work.

“Look at all these scrapbooks," my sister said, gesturing toward a collection of what seemed like art scrapbooks. We couldn’t tell if these were Mom’s or our grandmother’s. Mamoo was an artist—so maybe they were hers, to inspire her when she painted. Pictures pasted from magazines, pages upon pages of insects and butterflies and flowers, schooners and sailboats, pictures of everyday scenes of women.

“Now, this is a tennis player!” I said to my sister, pointing to a magazine picture of a woman wearing saddle shoes and holding a tennis racket.

In the bin, we found one brochure for a wedding photographer in Hong Kong. We couldn’t read most of it, because it was in Chinese. That was from when our parents were married there in the early sixties.

And there were letters to them in 1969 from Uncle Lee and Aunt Meryl. And polio vaccine cards: three that our mom took over a number of months, with the instructions to take them with a sugar cube.

And the very bottom of the bin, we found instructions on how to use Star Trek Communicator walkie talkies. Those must have been our brother’s. And one stick pin with an emblem and “Japan” written in tiny letters: from one of the many trips she and Dad took together.

We aren’t sure exactly what we are going to do with all of this stuff, but we made ourselves sort through it, organize it, and throw away the stuff that seemed less necessary.

But in the end, it all seemed necessary.

The very last thing we found in the box: the business card from her home healthcare and hospice.