Who was Francis Singer? I never met her, yet I feel as though I know her intimately. You see, I’m the one that is called to erase her life along with all the other lost souls who don’t have family to take their treasured possessions. I walk into what used to be and pack the memories in boxes marked “garage sale”, “Goodwill”, “auction” or “home”.
I’ve become more thick-skinned about rummaging through people’s lives. It’s just a job, I tell myself, but sometimes I allow myself to ponder who they were. For some reason, I felt Francis Singer’s presence in every room I entered. It was as if she were standing next to me whispering in my ear, “Tell my story. Don’t let all of me be erased. Don’t just hit the delete button of my life. I was here...I was here.”
There was no time to listen to the little voice. We had to have this place cleared out in one day. So, I made my way into her bedroom and tore Frances’ lovely clothes off the hangers in the yesteryear closet and stuffed them in the bag - no time to waste. I reached for another sparkling dress and noticed a tag hanging from the hanger. In fact, every hanger had a tag.
Why would someone put tags on every clothes hanger?
I was intrigued. I took a moment to read a tag, “Chinese Embassy, December ’93.” Another was marked, “X-mas, 2001 at the Hunnleson’s”. I tucked the tags into my pocket. Then, I reached for the doilies and the crazy flowered hats that accompanied Francis on long ago picnics and I stuffed them into the Goodwill bag.
I grabbed the folded cloth napkins, arranged so neatly in the closet, and took them to the kitchen to use them for wrapping the fine china. Then, I continued to rummage through the few remnants of Francis Singer.
I made my way over to the window seat in her bedroom and pulled up the cushion. Under the cushion were three items: a folded child’s paper napkin with a picture of Noah’s Ark on it, four small hand-made doilies and a bunch of hand-written papers stapled together.
Francis tapped me on the shoulder: “Don’t throw them away.” She whispered.
I placed them in my pocket with the clothes tags. Somewhere deep inside of me I felt a sadness for the woman who used to be. All that remained of Francis Singer were the few items I chose to help me tell her story.
Later, I picked up the paper napkin that clearly held some great meaning for Francis. I pictured her sitting in her window seat staring out at the pond across the street holding the napkin and dreaming of a child - maybe her son or a grandchild. What about the doilies? Did they too remind Francis of of a long ago memory - perhaps of the days when she was able to crochet. I started reading the stapled papers feeling like an intruder into Francis’ life.
I learned that she had a fight with her son because of a woman who turned him against her. Francis was concerned about her grandson (the paper napkin mystery solved). I don’t think they ever made amends because Francis speaks of the broken home and broken heart of her grandson.
Francis’ husband had Alzheimer’s and died in 2006. Francis wrote of shares of stocks that were worth in excess of $6,000,000. I could not make out what she was saying, though, as her handwriting had become too difficult to read.
I didn’t need to page through her diary to learn that she was in the US Air Force - there was evidence of her service and patriotism throughout her home. I believe that she may have been an ambassador as well - judging from the lovely clothes marked with many embassies.
I wish I knew Francis. I wish I could tell her that I appreciate her service to our country. I wish I could tell her that I will take care of her doilies, paper napkin and heartfelt writings, but I can’t tell her. I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if she died or moved into a nursing home. I don’t know anything about where she is now because I am just the person called in to erase what used to be.
So, here I sit wishing I could bring Francis to life. Truth is, I can’t. All I can do is tell my readers to cherish their own lives. Cherish the moments that take your breath away. Embrace the heartache and reach out to those you love. Know that your treasure is not in the things you own, but in the family and friends that surround you. If there is someone you hurt, make amends before it is too late. I know we all hear these words of wisdom over and over again, but it’s true.
Someday, the things you thought were your most treasured possessions will be stuffed into boxes marked Goodwill, flea market or auction. It happens to all of us, but we cannot stuff the people into boxes. Like it or not, we all leave behind a legacy through the people we knew and loved. What will yours be?