Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not his name

My mom is visiting the Midwest to help her mother prepare for a move. My grandmother will be downsizing and moving closer to other family, in part because of the fairly recent passing of my grandfather. 

One of the big tasks of this move is de-cluttering the house (something that happens to be one of my favorite activities, but that's neither her nor there). One room that simply will not be recreated in my grandmother's new home is an office/den that was strictly used by my grandpa. It's been filled with his paperwork, old work documents, fishing and hunting trophies, old calendars given to him by Hershey Foods—his employer. These things need to be tossed or put into storage, except for maybe the one or two especially sentimental items that my grandma wants to look at on a daily basis. 

It's a draining process, I'm sure. But one surprising thing that has come up for my mother: my grandmother won't let her throw away anything that has my grandpa's name on it. And it's not a security issue. Because we're not talking about bills and bank statements. Even old notes and junk mail with printed labels. 

When pressed for explanation, grandma says, "We can't throw away his name." 

But it's not the actual object with his name. Because my mother is allowed to throw away these things if she takes a Sharpee and blacks out his name. So there's something very specific about the power of his written name that my grandmother doesn't want to see end up in the garbage. 

I find this fascinating. Think about all of the times his name ended up in the garbage, on junk mail or whatever, when he was alive. And I'm sure that was no big deal. 

I've heard more talk from Midwestern relatives about the importance of protecting your name, and it's the only place I've actually heard someone say, "Your name is all you've got." So I wonder if part of this is regional. 

Mostly, I would guess it's just her trying to control whatever she can about death. A way to express her frustration about how unpredictable life can be. Also, she spent quite a few years as his caretaker before he passed. This lets her take care of him again in another way, even though he's gone. It's pretty sweet, even though it's not very effective. 


risaden said...

It's wonderfully sweet and impractical and I love that she insists on honoring his name. It reminds me of how Jews won't throw away anything with the name of God on it. Observant Jews write G-D, instead of God, so the name won't inadvertently be destroyed.

Gail Rae said...

If evidence of your name remains, I think, in whatever form, that's proof that you were here and, in some sense, still are.
Related: I'm having trouble getting rid of anything in my mother's handwriting, especially and including if she signed it. I used to have an interest in handwriting analysis, so handwriting and signatures are especially pithy for me.
Provocative post, Jessica.

Jessica Knapp said...

Thanks for your comments guys.

Interesting analogy to observant Jews and the name of God, risaden.

Gail, I can understand having a hard time getting rid of your mother's handwriting. I've had trouble getting rid of some things that my grandfather gave me that I know I never would have kept if he were still alive, and they weren't even very personal.