She pissed off waiters but the mailman adored her. Her doctors stopped taking her calls but the gardener would bake her banana bread. When I met people over the past six weeks that knew my mother, they either rolled their eyes with unmasked exasperation and said, “Oh, your mother,” or they gave me a tight hug and said, “Oh, your mother,” in a tone that is normally reserved for nuns and people who walk on the moon.She was a study in contrasts.
A few days after her death, my brother found her small wooden jewelry box in the dresser next to her bed. Inside was her vintage charm bracelet, her great-grandmother’s pearls, and some silver coins from the 1950’s. My siblings and I divided up these items according to sentimental value. My sister Oakley looked overly-glamorous that afternoon wearing the pearls while changing the cat’s litter box.Imagine our surprise a few weeks later to find a large steel safe in the back of my mother’s closet.
When had Mom bought a safe?! How had none of us seen it before? Why had she not told my brother, nor given my sister a key or the combination? What was in there?After weeks of cleaning and clearing out the house, the safe was one of the last things left to deal with. We would need to open it at some point.
I called a locksmith. “What is involved with breaking into a safe?” I heard myself ask on the phone. As the words escaped my lips, I imagined the locksmith alerting the police moments after we hung up.In the end, my brother-in-law convinced us to save the $150 locksmith fee because he could break in with a large drill. My siblings and I stood around watching him for 20 minutes, his safety goggles flecked with dust and specks of metal.
I found myself wondering what my eccentric mother had hidden inside, her most precious and treasured possession. Would it be a gigantic file of previously unknown stocks worth billions? Her grandmother’s famous apple pie recipe? The Hope Diamond? The number of a private Swiss bank account? Keys to a secret Porsche parked elsewhere? Photos of her puppy from childhood?The tension was palpable. I looked at my sister. I looked at my brother. All the mysteries of my mother’s life were about to be revealed to us when we would find out what mattered most.
My brother-in-law slowly removed the safe’s heavy door. We leaned in. For a moment, I was scared we might find a dead cat.Oakley reached in and pulled out a single piece of cardboard. Plain, brown, no writing.
We fell on the floor laughing. We laughed until we cried, my mother’s sense of humor reaching us from heaven.MOV