Perched on an unfinished shelf above Calvin's bed are a dozen relics that he will likely never regard or understand. For me, however, they hold memories, a handful of images within each one—a meaning, a smile, a loss.

Some are photos from my Grandma Shake's trunk, the one that, after she died, my father told each of us to sort through and choose what we wanted for our own. I chose a rosary for its beauty, a handful of photos and a small red velvet album in which she'd written quotes from Emerson, Longfellow, Confucius, Mohammed, Buddha, Plato, Kipling, Goethe and John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. I'm fairly certain that my grandmother did not attend college, but she must have been an avid reader with an open mind. I wish I'd known her better. I really didn't know her at all.

The other photos are from a box full of loose photographs of my mother's and an album or two of her's and her dad's. My mother told me that I was the only one of my siblings who showed much interest in them. Each time I visited her I'd pull the box out of the closet and study them all. I got familiar with them, enough to recognize my grandparents, aunts and uncles at different ages. My grandpa's black-paged album had a couple of photos of dead soldiers from his time serving in World War I. There were loose photos of my dad sailing, of her mother as a girl, of her deaf brother.

On the left side of the case is a framed, candid photo of my Grandma Shake hanging laundry on a windy day. Resting against it is a cross-shaped wooden milagro that I picked up while visiting the Southwest, or perhaps Brazil, I can't remember. I was drawn to its beauty, to its tiny metal figures of body parts and beings carefully nailed to its face. There are legs and arms and hands, a pair of eyes, a few anatomically-shaped hearts and a couple of ears. There's a bird and a dog and a cow and a sheep and a rooster and a camel. There's a boy, a girl, a woman and a cottage, a horse head, a flower and a car. And in the bottom left corner, upside down, a tiny baby lays in an awkward, arching pose. I think of that baby as Calvin, often meditating on his healing.

Behind the milagro is a photo of my Grandma Shake as a young woman sitting in a big wooden chair. The back of the photo says it was taken in San Jose. By the look of her youth it was likely taken before she lived in San Francisco where my father was born and lived until the age of five. As a teenager, I'd been strangely drawn to San Francisco, but it wasn't until I lived there that I learned my father had too.

The portrait of my mother is from when she was in high school or college. She's radiant and a gleaming halo fringes her hair like sunshine behind clouds. In my move to Maine in 2001, the same year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, its glass broke, causing a clean crack that runs across the bridge of her nose into her forehead. My mother—broken—is still my mother.

In the center of the case rests a silver rattle that my friend Sandy gave me for Calvin when he was born. By the time Calvin had the strength and skill to play with it he'd already sprouted a couple of teeth that we feared he'd knock out with the heavy rattle, so we kept it up on the shelf. It sits next to his first pair of sneakers, denim ones with white rubber toes, which are too tiny and cute to let go.

The doorway photo of my Grandpa Shake wearing sports coat, cap and tie bears a striking resemblance to my father when he was a young man. I love it just for that. It stands next to a faded-out photo of my Great Aunt Mary, who I never liked much because she was so grumpy and always wanted me to wear dresses, but I keep the photo because in it she's walking down a San Franciscan street, where she, too, lived. I miss that place so much. Behind Aunt Mary is a portrait of my Grandpa at the age of two. He's got long blond, curly locks like Calvin used to have. In front of that photo is a favorite of me and my dad taken in 1965. Dad is dressed in his work clothes, the ones I remember him wearing when he'd stand drinking coffee and eating soft boiled eggs while reading the morning paper.

The photo on the far right is of my dad between two of his buddies. I think this was taken during his time at the Naval Academy just after World War II. At six-feet-four-inches tall he weighed about 175 pounds at most. Over the years his physique barely changed, as he kept up with running, light weightlifting and calisthenics. He'd be eighty-nine this year. It's been eighteen years since the cancer took him, robbed him of his retirement, of enjoying the great outdoors he loved so much, perhaps more so having spent so much of his life confined to an office desk.

I regard these relics I've collected and assembled into a shrine of sorts, look at them every day. They help me remember where I come from, though I'm not really sure what difference that makes. After I am gone, if Calvin survives me, he will have no desire or need for them and we'll have no grandchildren to pass them to. I wonder, and doubt, if my niece or nephews will care about them at all. The faces would mostly be strangers to them, aspects without any meaning.

Finally, I look up the exact definition of the word.

an object surviving from an earlier time, esp. one of historical or sentimental interest.
an object, custom or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded. 

I am struck by the last definition:

all that is left of something.

click photo to enlarge


  1. Beautiful writing and stunning, heartbreaking imagery and thoughts.

    For me, Buddhism, the notions of attachment and unattachment are what save me --

  2. Hi- I tried responding to one of your posts awhile back and I don't think it ever went through. I so enjoy reading your blog. My Mom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma back in February 2013. I remember reading your posts about your dad and then one day you mentioned he had multiple myeloma that took him little by little. My heart sank. When I found about my Mom's diagnosis, I knew nothing about multiple myeloma. Just as you, I lost my dear, sweet parent. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, but I feel we are kindred spirits. I think about your Calvin often and so hope the medical marijuana works for him. I have seen him at school (my son is 7 and goes to HBS) and seeing him makes me smile. Take care, Julie

    1. dear julie, so nice of you to write. are you on facebook? i'd like to invite you to our annual benefit which is april 12th. you can comment and give me your email so i can send you an invite. i manage the comments and i will not publish your email. take care, christy