In her hand, a small box of things. It had belonged to Emelia H Grace, her namesake and grandmother on her father’s side. Two weeks ago Emilia had been eighty six years old. The entire family had been there to celebrate - there was an old-time jazz quartet, like the one she had sung with in the war, and the mountain of hand baked butterfly cakes went down a storm, as they always did.
One week ago Emilia had died, happy in her bed, her latest jigsaw complete on the tray before her, a gentle smile on her chapped lips. The entire family had been there to mourn - there was an old-time jazz quartet, and the cake went largely untouched.
On Wednesday, uncle Jimmy, Em’s youngest son, called everyone into the dining room to solemnly divide the physical remains of a long and joyous life. As is often the case with these things it was an uncomfortable moment - sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and friends of all ages, together through a shared love of someone no longer there, although touched, on the whole, by genuine sadness and grief, became secretly covetous of the greatest prizes. There had, of course, been a proper will, and in financial terms, at least, no one could complain that they hadn’t been given their dues. But here, laid out in splendour on the large oak table, were the possessions by which the mother, grandmother, godmother, aunt, friend, confidant and sometime lover; by which the woman would be remembered. And as the minutes ticked by, mocked mischievously by old Em’s antique silver table clock, deference and humility gave way to greed and self-righteous argument. Perhaps inevitably.
It was less of a fight than a diplomatic and semantic arm wrestle, certainly, but there were those who were there to get what they wanted and these were things they meant not to leave the room without, either for themselves or for their children, too young to grab for themselves.
“I’m not being funny, but the engagement ring should be mine. Em always said that when I met the man I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with then I would have it. And in turn it should go to our daughter. And so on. Well, I never asked for it when I met Bill because she seemed so attached to it still, but nonetheless she did say that to me. You know?”
“I feel the same about the rug, Sarah. I mean, I used to play on that rug all the time when I was small. She taught me to read on that rug! If it went to someone else I don’t know how they could possibly love it as much as I would."
“Well, all I know is that if you’re talking about books then the first editions should go to Philip and Anne! We all grew up listening to those stories, and as the youngest grandchildren I think they would serve as a fitting legacy. Don’t you?”
And so on.