Confluence of life stamped on discarded paper plate

Confluence of life stamped on discarded paper plate
A box with some of my father's belongings arrives by mail addressed to me. It contains mostly religious items: a Bible, a crucifix, extra copies of the bulletin from his funeral earlier this month. There is a tote bag with his name on it and some neckties, too. Buried at the bottom is a used paper plate.

Apologetically, my sister forewarns me about the plate. She says that she cannot bring herself to toss it. "It has Mom's writing on it," she explained. "I know this sounds crazy, but I just can't throw it away."

Yes, the entire idea of retrieving a used paper plate from anywhere is kind of gross. Covered with faintly smeared food stains, the paper plate is garbage, if it were not for the prayer in my mother's handwriting that flows across the center of it.


"Angel sent by God to guide me ? "

The mere assumption of the plate's genealogy feels shameful. How did it end up among my father's belongings? Did he retrieve it when the kids were helping him move to the retirement home after Mom died?

"Be my light ? "

Splattered with traces of meat drippings, vegetable juice, and a smattering of oil, was it Mom's scratch paper before or after it carried food?

By now, my sister's reputation and mine are on the line. We are meticulous, orderly, and clutter-free. God forbid that a used paper plate would be found among our keepsakes. What would people think?

Once I get passed the sentimentality of the piece, I try tossing it; really, I do.

"And walk beside me ? "

The neckties, the Bible, the crucifix � these are enough memories.

But I cannot throw it away. I am in solidarity with my sister. I know her dilemma. A life of fixing and fussing; years of cooking and cleaning; sweat over appearances and appointments all boil down to this confluence of the tactical and spiritual sides of their lives.

"And protect me ? "

Less a piece of garbage and more a lullaby, this soothing connection to my parents' lives brings me to my knees.

"On the path of life direct me."

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail pauladamon@iw.net.

� 2007 Paula Damon

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