My grandfather’s clock

My mother does not have much by way
of a literal inheritance to leave her children,  but she tells me each of us can have one of the ‘precious’ items from our childhood that now take pride of place in her living
‘I don’t want you to fight over them,’ she said when I visited last week.  
I don’t see that we would, at least not overtly, but there is one single
item that to me stands out above all others – the grandfather clock – my grandfather’s clock, the one he
sent to my mother in Australia from Holland way back in the 1960s. 
‘It’s the only thing of real
value,’ my mother said.  ‘It’s an
I’m not sure I can speak for the clock’s actual value but its sentimental value to my mother and to her children is
great, or at least I imagine it is great for my siblings as well.  
My mother has elected to give this clock to one
of my brothers.  It is the only
item that she has itemised specifically for one or another of us, except for her
piano, which goes to my older sister, the only one who ever learned to play properly.  That is a given. 
I don’t know where the idea came
from, but for several years now I have lived with the belief that one of my
younger sisters coveted that grandfather clock since we were children.  
You know how it is, in those conversations
children sometimes have with their parents: ‘When you die, Mum, I want you to
leave me your banjo…’
In this way, my daughters divide up my
jewellery – what there is of it – again not for its actual value, but for its emotional value, particularly my wedding ring.  Given the fact I have four daughters and only one ring, a
ring created and cast in gold by a friend now long dead, we have thought to
make a fresh cast of the ring so that all my children can have a copy.  But that’s another story.
My mother says she wants to be
buried with her rings, or else they will need to be cut off.  
That’s fine, my older sister reckons,
but to her it seems a waste to bury diamonds. 
There seems to be a debate between
the actual value and the emotional value. To me, my mother’s diamonds hold little
value.  They come from the rings her second husband gave her.  I
care only for the rings and things that come from my childhood, narcissistic as
that might seem.  
The things that
existed in my childhood that live on in my memory, they are the things I desire
most:  the paintings of windmills in Holland,
and of Europe in the winter, the wall hangings my mother hand embroidered, the
statue of the blessed virgin Mary, and the crucifix.
I sensed my mother was a little
surprised when I asked if I might have the crucifix, not for religious reasons – though I did not tell my mother that – more for its significance as an icon from
my childhood that sits in my memory like a beacon.  
‘Take it down now then,’  my mother said.  ‘Write your name underneath.’  I suggested that – with help – she might
like to write behind or underneath each object or painting the name of the
person to whom she wants to leave it. 
‘But I prefer to give each of you
something you like.  I want you each to choose.’
All except the grandfather clock, and I told my mother then how much my younger sister had always wanted that clock,
she perhaps more than any one of us. 
But no, my mother still wants to give it to my brother.
Why, I asked, why this
‘He never married,’ my
mother said.  ‘He lives
A clock like this could make his
home homely.  A clock like
this belongs in a cosy house.  A
clock like this would keep him company.
My mother went on to tell me how
she had stopped the clock from working when the grandchildren came along.  She did not want any of them to get
hurt playing with the brass metal weight on the end of the chains at the base
of the clock. 
But my brother could reassemble
it, she said.  He could get the clock working
And so he could measure the passage of time, tick tock, tick tock, the
grandfather clock his constant companion.
I do not know what will happen to
the clock or the crucifix or any of the other memorabilia of my mother’s life,
but at least I can write about it, as I did once in a short story – literary license and all that: 
The girl hesitates
at the front door as she pulls it shut behind, long enough to catch a glimpse
of the statue of Jesus hanging from his crucifix on top of the piano
in the front hall.  His feet are cracked
where the nail has been driven in and although someone has tried to glue the
feet back in place the plaster has split up to his knees and he now hangs
loosely from his arms and swings in the updraft from the open door.

Her father’s beads

Nursing my mother has become something of a preoccupation. Not so much to keep her alive as to make these last days comfortable. She is not in pain she tells me time and again, but her legs weep. I never knew this. I never knew that legs could ooze liquid as if they have become my mother’s eyes and she cries all the time through tiny holes and blisters in the skin around her swollen ankles.

It is a side effect of congestive cardiac failure the doctors say and there is not much they can do apart from reducing her fluid intake and trying to keep her fluid retention down. But my mother could not survive on a single litre of fluid a day.

I notice she does not even keep a tally on the number of drinks, cups of tea, juice and water she consumes and to my way of thinking why should she? It will not make a huge difference. This slow grinding down heart will only get worse.

Late on Friday night when I unpacked my mother’s bags after she had finally returned from hospital to her retirement village, I noticed a set of wooden rosary beads.
‘Do you want these nearby,’ I asked.
‘Put them there,’ she said and she pointed to the table beside her chair.
‘My father carved that crucifix out of wood,’ my mother said. ‘They were my father’s beads.’

Even to the end my mother has her father in mind. She was his favourite. He was hers. Strange then that my mother should marry a man such as my father, a man who could not/did not make her his favourite, or at least not in so far as I could ever see.

I have yet to work out the psychology behind my mother’s choice of husband, or should I say her husbands, for there were two.

The second husband puzzled me even more, but she was happy with him and although he seemed to me an uncouth, ocker sort of bloke who often put her down, he also treated her well to a degree, though not sufficient to cater for her well enough after their seventeen-year-old marriage ended in his death several years ago.

He left almost everything to his own children and very little for my mother after he died apart from the choice to live in his house for as long as she wanted before it was turned over to his two remaining children.

My mother refused to contest the will. She did not want to make trouble for anyone and so she eked out the last of her days on a pension and the good will of some of her children, leaving only the money she had invested in her room at the retirement village, which will be distributed between all her children on her death.

I have often been jealous of friends whose parents leave a huge monetary inheritance. I know I should be satisfied with my inheritance as it stands from both my parents, my education, my sense of myself, my capacities in most endeavours, but I cannot help but think what a wonderful help it would be to become suddenly rich as has happened to a few of my friends on the death of their respective parents.

Not so for my husband and me. We have been, as far as wealth is concerned, self made. We paid for our own wedding. We have worked hard to support ourselves throughout the years of our marriage and now at this stage I am not so confident that I have not repeated history, managed my affairs badly and will not leave a large legacy to our children, only debts that might consume whatever assets we have gained. I hope this does not happen.

I do not live to leave my children huge wealth but I’d like to think there might be more left over for them when we die than has been left for us, for both my husband and I. His parents were not much better off than my parents and they too had a large family of six.

There is something in this forward looking to my own death which relates I am sure to my mother’s slow and steady decline into lifelessness, but as I drove back home last night from the retirement village after I had tucked my mother into her recliner chair where she now plans to sleep each night – she sleeps better there, as her heels do not rub – I thought I am grateful for this time, this time of nursing my mother, this time to make peace with her.

I have not always been such a faithful daughter.