5: A Family Heirloom

5: A Family Heirloom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

A Family Heirloom

Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.

~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal

As far back as I can remember, my mother had a black fur coat hanging in the hall closet. Since it wasn’t really my mother’s style to wear fur, I always wondered why we had the coat at all. I remember asking her what it was made of. She said it was made of muskrat. I loved animals and I tried to imagine how many muskrats gave up their lives to make this big, beautiful coat. Yet, I couldn’t resist rubbing against the silky fur. When I snuggled it in the closet, it filled my nose with a distinctive fragrance.

I am sure all of us tried it on at one time or another. There were four girls, at least, who paraded around in it. I am not so sure about the boys. Even at that time, we wondered who would get the coat.

The coat belonged to my grandmother. She was the daughter of a doctor in Ridgetown, Ontario. She married a lawyer from the United States and her wedding made the society news of the day.

My great-grandfather, the doctor, had found a bride in Glasgow and brought her home to Ontario, where they raised five sons and two daughters. My grandmother died in 1976. My mother died in 1995.

One day, after my mother died, I decided to make a pilgrimage to my grandmother’s hometown. I found the largest house in town easily. There were many photos of it at home, but since my great-grandfather’s day it had been turned into a funeral home. I found that a little depressing. I stopped to have coffee in the small town restaurant that felt a lot like my own hometown in Forest, Ontario. It gave me an insight into my grandmother’s decision to buy our cottage in Forest. They both had that warm small-town feeling.

On the way home, I felt a little lost. I would have liked to have shared the experience with my mother, but she had already passed away. As I drove down a side road, the kind that are unmarked and seem to last forever, I saw a flock of white geese. I stopped to watch them and they gave me a thrill, because I had never seen a field full of Snow Geese before.

My mother left the coat behind in the closet. My eldest sister, Janet, inherited it with the house. Many years passed and she kept thinking about what she might do with the coat. One day, in the summer of 2009, my sister sent a parcel for my three children. One package labeled “Allison” caught me by surprise. I let the children open their presents before I opened mine. They were equally excited for me to have a present.

I ripped open the wrapping and a familiar smell assailed my nose, although I couldn’t place it at first. In front of me sat a beautiful black bear with a pattern on his paws that I recognized from long forgotten days of snuggling in the hall closet. The feelings they evoked were joyful. Pictures of four identical black bears spilled out on the floor. I could hardly grasp what my sister had done!

When I finally got her on the phone, she confessed her long kept secret. She told me that she didn’t like the fact that the coat hung in the closet, useless and unused. Then she saw a program on how people turned old fur coats into bears. She decided that’s exactly what she wanted to do.

When she looked into the cost of the service, she found that each bear would cost $250. Since this price was outside her budget, she decided that the best way to get bears would be to ask if someone did it as a hobby. She mentioned it to her teacher friends. Then her old principal asked the lunchroom lady if she knew anyone who did such a hobby. Confused, the lady asked him why he wanted to know, because that’s what she did in her spare time.

So, four identical bears were born, works of art, in Calgary, Alberta. I feel so lucky to have a sister who would take the time to put her love into such a bear project only to share it with her sisters. All my children sense the love I have for this heirloom bear, a bear of memories that no one can buy for me from a store.

~Allison Knight-Khan

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