Right on the tail of writing my hurricane post, two of the girls and I were in a local toy store looking at the Madame Alexander dolls when an elderly woman came up and asked them which one they liked the best.
“I love Scarlett,” said one.
“I love Little Bo Peep,” said the other.
“My favorite is Captain Hook,” said the lady, after which she unlocked the glass case and pulled ‘him’ out to show the girls.
“Are you a collector?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t respond with, “Well, duh. I own a toy shop.”
“I was,” she said, placing the doll back in the case, “I had a beautiful collection. But I lost it in Katrina.”
That wasn’t the only thing she lost, we soon found out. Reaching behind the counter, Maryalice, as I learned her name was, grabbed a small photo album. The first picture was of a stunning white plantation-style home with bushes covered in reds and pinks lining the front porch.
The next picture was of rubble. Not a single wall stood. It looked like a giant had given her house a good stomp. Or a hundred.
In the seven hours it took Katrina to pass, Maryalice lost her home of 36 years, and a lifetime of belongings. Fourteen items, six of which were a half dozen of her Lenox holiday plates (which were found, miraculously like sometimes happens in these kind of disasters, all on end, without a scratch underneath the remains of the fireplace), were all that was left. Later, a neighbor found a framed picture of Maryalice’s daughter in her yard, but that was it. Eighty-seven years of living was reduced to fourteen items and one picture.
One hears of these things, of course. Whole homes go up in a night of burning. Houses are swept out to sea and apartments sometimes get flooded. But to see this flesh-and-blood woman left with only fourteen items and one picture left gutted me.
As much as I craw on about living simply…as much as I declutter and spout on about the necessity of having empty spaces on shelves and constantly goad myself on to get rid of even more stuff, I love my things. Before I met Maryalice, I hadn’t realized how much.
It’s easy to give away what doesn’t hurt. Books I’ll never read. Jeans that will never fit. Pilled sheets and tired shoes, the lids to Tupperware that long ago melted in the dishwasher. Voluntary giving is painless and, let’s face it, fun.
Involuntary giving, not so much.
In the hour I spent with Maryalice, I learned many things. We speak of angels unaware and I am tempted to drive back over to Ocean Springs to see if she’s still there or if no one in the toy store has ever heard of anyone named Maryalice. Long I will think about her and the things she whispered into my heart while my girls rearranged the store’s dollhouse and coveted way too many doll dresses.
But, for today, just this one thing: What would I do if I lost everything? Would people come to me, like they did to Maryalice, and insensitively say, “Well, at least you have your life?” What would I miss most? What is replaceable? What isn’t? Would I be okay (Lord, not my babies’ pictures, surely not the pictures!)? Would I be able to grin, even years later, like Maryalice, and speak without bitterness when a stranger asks my story?
I don’t know what I’d do. In fact, just talking to Maryalice has awoken in me a new love for My Things. My Precious Things. My favorite books. My boxes of journals. My bike. My running shoes. My beloved pillow. My violin in its emerald velvet-lined case. As she and I spoke, I felt the fingers of my mind gathering all my beloved things and curling them closer to me. Grasp. Squeeze. Cling. Protect.
And then I think of Maryalice.
More to chew on…and would you kindly consider sharing this with your friends? We never know who is in the middle of a storm…