They Left Us Everything: A Memoir
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A warm, heartfelt memoir of family, loss, and a house jam-packed with decades of goods and memories.
After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers have finally fallen to their middle-aged knees with conflicted feelings of grief and relief. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, twenty-three rooms bulging with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum thought: How tough will that be? I know how to buy garbage bags.
But the task turns out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger difficult memories of her eccentric family growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, but unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships, with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.
They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past, and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.
battlefields of the American Civil War. “The horses are on their backs … their legs are in the air … their eyes are wild … there’s smoke everywhere!” I said, “No, Sandy, you’re at home … you’re just having a bad dream.” “No, no! I’m there! I’m there! Can’t you see it?” Other times, he looked petrified, crying, “I don’t want to die … I don’t want to die!” I sat in the rocking chair at the foot of his bed, talking of reincarnation. Sandy didn’t believe in it. “I’m going to miss all of you so
away!” says Mum. “This is my kitchen!” “Sorry … sorry …” says Pelmo. “I go upstairs.” As she’s leaving, Mum says to me, “You don’t understand how horrible it is having strangers living in my house!” Pelmo and Tashi are hardly strangers; in fact, I consider them saints. Later I catch Pelmo in the pantry, out of Mum’s earshot, and apologize for Mum’s rudeness. She smiles broadly. “It’s okay,” she says. “Your mum, I know she has good heart. These things she says, she does not mean.” “Look!” Mum
The new thrift-store pieces don’t hold any memories—or, at least, the memories they hold aren’t mine. Pelmo and Tashi have returned from Tibet, bearing gifts from their homeland and moved back into their apartment at the back of the house. But they’ve been home less than a month when the world gets news of a devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Tibet. It’s the first such earthquake in the region in more than two thousand years, and the epicentre is where Tashi was born. It has devastated his
I’ve spent the morning saying goodbye to the mammoth dining-room table. It’s been in the house since 1917. I’ve run my hand over the grain and taken photos of it from every angle. When it goes, this house will feel a whole lot emptier. The men remove the leaves and then heave the table over onto its back. It looks like a dead dinosaur with its feet sticking straight up in the air, exposing its ribs. They have to eviscerate it section by section and amputate its legs bolt by bolt. It takes them a
palm of her hand. I hurried to lock all the doors, but I was too late: in rushed a group of gypsy archaeologists. They were clutching valuable artifacts that they were excited to tell me they’d found in the basement, but when I looked closely, I could see they were holding only the old props I’d handmade as a child for my theatre. “How dare you trespass into our house!” I yelled. “This is not a museum! This is our HOME!” They wanted their daughter back, but I wouldn’t give her up until they