Monday, November 5, 2012

working-class heirlooms

My sister Sally's return address stuck out on the corner of the padded parcel envelope that someone had crammed into my mail cubby in the faculty lounge. I removed my gloves and carefully extracted the package from its tight squeeze, fearing that Christmas cookies, or what have you, might have been crushed. It was that time of year again. From Thanksgiving to New Years, my large family sent small gifts and packages to my work address in the City (the postal service in Brooklyn was not to be trusted), and most times the people at the elementary school knew better than to cram a package of cookies into a five-by-five-inch cubby.

As I freed the last corner of the envelope from the metal rim of the mailbox, I could tell that the contents were not crumbly at all. Rather, whatever was inside felt soft and pliable, like a small quilt or pillow. I secreted the package under my arm and headed for my classroom knowing that the content was something that had belonged to my mother. Sally had just spent the week of Thanksgiving cleaning my father's house. She and my eldest sister Em had decided they would surprise Dad when he returned from visiting my brother in Chicago, by clearing away the piles of sweepstakes offers, Readers Digests and grocery store circulars that tend to gather in the home of an 82-year-old widower.