Never Save the Best for Last

Never Save the Best for Last

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Never Save the Best for Last

The joy that isn’t shared dies young.

Anne Sexton

Instead of New Year’s Eve, I make resolutions on my birthdays. It seems somehow more quiet and personal.

This year I decided it was time to sell or donate my mother’s possessions that no one in the family was planning on using. Those boxes in the attic had uncomfortably loomed over me for five years.

The bittersweet process didn’t go as I expected. As I stumbled through the carton-crammed attic, the first box I opened held my mother’s sterling silver flatware, and wedged inside was her favorite evening purse, wrapped in blue felt. A tiny beauty, with pale peach roses embroidered on beige satin and a handle dotted with pearls and emeralds, the purse could fit in my palm. I couldn’t imagine ever carrying it myself when going out to dinner, but maybe someday I’d find an evening worthy of its elegance. So I put it in my pocket to save, as Mom used to say, “for best.”

As I hid the treasure in my pocket, memories washed over me from when I was little. When I was sick, I was allowed to go through Mother’s jewelry drawers. I loved pulling out costume diamond brooches and clip-on earrings. Peering in her vanity mirror, I made up stories about wearing them. That’s also where she kept her little purses. I always completed my fantasies by matching one of them to complement my ensemble. And my favorite was the one now in my pocket.

Behind the silverware were stacks of tightly sealed cartons— cartons that I hadn’t been able to face in the years since she died, boxes that I so quickly, efficiently, and hold-on-tight emotionlessly packed up the week after her funeral. With a rich sadness, I peeled the tape off of one. It held pastel blue Wedgwood china with raised white bands of grapevines around the edges. It was in museum-quality condition because it had never been used.

Then I found a set of crystal that sparkled with brilliant diamond clarity. Tumblers and candlesticks and a huge cut glass punch bowl. I carefully unwrapped a Waterford vase. How come I never saw any of this? I thought. The vase was a metaphor for her life. A daughter of penniless Russian immigrants, my mother grew up proudly able to afford good crystal. But she couldn’t allow herself the joy of using it. Like many unclaimed joys in her life, she saved it for “best.” And more often than not, best never came.

I think that was why I was too afraid to let myself think about the things I packed after she died. It was too sad to see wine glasses that never glistened on a lace tablecloth and china that was perfect because no one ever put a slice of cake on it.

Later, as I set the table for my beloved yearly birthday lasagna bash, I flirted with using my mother’s handmade white embroidered tablecloth, but I pictured it with the resulting tomato sauce stains and changed my mind. My husband softly admonished me. “You might as well throw it out if you’re going to keep it in the attic. Why have it take up space?” So with gleeful abandon, I unfurled the pristine white tablecloth and set the table for seven people who arrived soon afterward, dressed in party attire.

I believe that had my mother known she would never even take a sip of water from her beautiful crystal tumbler, or never put a bouquet of her home-grown roses in her lovely Waterford vase, she would have been heartbreakingly sad. Because of that, not one of my mother’s treasured belongings would be taken out of my house.

And so, as I turned the corner of another birthday, I made a new resolution. I didn’t want someone in the next generation to go through my attic and find treasures I’ve never used. What on earth would be the point in that? If something breaks, it breaks. My new motto? Use the good stuff!

My guests and I laughed our way through dinner, and nobody spilled sauce on the tablecloth. Instead, I knocked over an entire glass of red wine. I was horrified, but I bet Mom wouldn’t have minded one bit. I think she would have loved that ruby-red stain. I wish she could have been there to celebrate with me. She would have adored how her favorite purse matched my peach satin blouse.

Saralee Perel

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