My brother Dennis presented me with a blue carton containing a bottle of whiskey. I had never heard of Johnny Walker Blue Label. Whiskey did not interest me. All I knew was I couldn’t afford good whiskey, I didn’t like cheap whiskey and I couldn’t tell the difference between cheap and uncheap.
Dennis died ten years ago but the box and the bottle survive, unopened. Dennis died poor and intestate after forty-five years working in Finance. Dennis didn’t drink whiskey either. Strong drink was not his weakness. His loves were his weaknesses. One of his loves was for this brother, the one who survives him, healthy and unpoor.
I picture my firstborn brother in an airport palace of luxury items for sale duty free. He looks around for something good, something precious to buy for his loved brother. His instinct draws him to the most expensive items. A man of the world, Dennis recognises the blue label. He takes the box in one arm, reaches for his credit card, approaches the cashier. He makes the purchase he cannot afford, with funds he does not yet own, for the brother who will see no occasion to drink it.
To paraphrase O Henry’s closing remarks in ‘The Gift of the Magi’:
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of an unwise child who most unwisely sacrificed for the brother other the greatest treasures of his house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
On each occasion that I have had the chastening task of packing up a deceased estate, I have found myself wondering about the stories of the objects within. Your story means something special to me, and this is why…
Many years ago in the early sixties when I was a little girl, about eleven and newly minted as an Aussie, I visited our new neighbours in Melby Avenue Caulfield. They had a lovely new home, filled with graceful matching furniture. To me, it looked like a page out of Home Beautiful.
Afterwards, when we went home next door, I looked at my own home with discontent. It was cluttered with stuff, and looked nothing like the spare elegance of our tasteful neighbours.
But my mother said to me that the reason their house looked so lovely was because these neighbours had been deprived of their clutter… they did not have the ugly vase that Auntie Ruth might have given them, for them to put on a mantelpiece just to please her; they did not have any family photos, only sad memories of those forever lost; and all the gifts and bits and pieces lovingly collected over the years were looted and lost. Their house was not yet a home because its contents had no stories. Her earnest wish was that before long there would be photos of weddings and grandchildren and presents that didn’t match the décor, to make this house that echoed with loss into a home.
It’s when a house has gifts and objects with stories, ill-afforded or not, that it truly becomes a home.
An uneventful chronicle? I don’t think so.
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Your vignette – neglected by me until now- is haunting
And your mum was a wise and empathic person