From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

I Had Forgotten

Our real possession is our memory. In nothing else are we rich, in nothing else are we poor.

Alexandar Smitty (1630–1667)

I had forgotten that I’d once been a princess. My sister reminded me.

We were doing something that I’d heard people do and always wondered how a person could bear to do it—go through their mother’s things. My three sisters and I were in my mother’s cramped apartment, trying to get as much done as possible before one sister and I returned to our out-of-town homes and families, leaving whatever work remained to the other two sisters. We wanted to get as much done together as we could and share the burden as well as the grief.

We did better at the former than the latter. My sisters epitomize the “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We worked well together, but we mostly kept our grief to ourselves.

We didn’t fight about who wanted what. If two sisters wanted something, they tried to gauge who it meant the most to and that’s the sister who kept it. None of it was monetarily valuable; it was all about whose memory was wrapped around it.

My mom had the same jewelry box my whole life. It was jammed with all kinds of costume jewelry, from current things back to 1940s-era items. We packaged up most of it for the give-away pile.

I pulled out a bracelet. It is one of those kind that expands to fit over the hand and then is snug about the wrist, like a watch band. It has three rows of faceted glass set in what looks like nickel plate.

“Anybody want this?” I asked, hoping, though I didn’t know why, that they would all say no. I couldn’t place the memory, but my gut told me there was something special connected with it.

Lorraine’s face lit up. “Oh!” she said, “Do you remember this?”

“I do kind of but I don’t know why,” I replied.

She took it out of my hand and placed it, open side down, on top of my head. Instantly, the memory came flooding back. When I was little, Lorraine, being ten years older, would take pity on the little sister and play with me. In the attic were crinolines from fashions gone by. She would dress me in the crinolines, drape my head in colorful scarves, and anchor them with the bracelet, its sparkling glass looking like the perfect tiara. A bobby pin here and there, a little lipstick and rouge, and voilá! Instant princess!

All that flashed by in a moment as I looked at my dear sister, and all at once I was that little girl again, safe and treasured and loved in our cozy childhood home. Both of us blinked away tears as she wrapped me in a tight hug.

Our world would never be quite the same again. Standing on either side of our mother’s bed as she died would change us somehow inexplicably forever. But we would still face that world together, our love for one another even surer.

Now when I wear the bracelet for a special occasion, inevitably someone will comment on how lovely it is. “It was my mother’s,” I say.

And I smile.

Nancy Swiatek Pardo

More stories from our partners