Twenty some years ago, after my mother was moved into a nursing home, my siblings were left with the overwhelming task of figuring out what to do with her belongings. There were a lot of them: seven rooms and a garage packed with over half a century of memories. I am certain that much of what they assumed to be worthless junk was, in reality, precious belongings with great sentimental value, but sadly enough, without being privy to the accompanying stories, almost all of her things ended up in the garbage. I have no doubt that at least some of it was, in reality, precious family heirlooms.
That’s one of the reasons why, when I cleaned for Pesach this year, I spent a lot of time sorting through my belongings and gave many of them to my children. Among the treasures were several embroidered pictures that I had made years ago, during those long, sunny afternoons at the park, when my friends and I would sit together, watching our children (who are now beginning to marry off their own children!) as they climbed the jungle-gym and slid down the slides (those were the days, my friends…).
Every year on Erev Pesach, when I carefully remove the pictures from their cloth bag, I am transported to a different period of my life, when, between taking care of the babies and running my home, I never dreamed of finding the quiet that I need to be able to write. Yet, each afternoon there was an oasis of time when I would join a group of young mothers to discuss everything from recipes to the meaning of life while watching my children, and embroider fanciful pictures (I have always been a multi-tasker!).
This year, however, instead of returning my works of art to their cloth bag and promising myself that as soon as Pesach is over, I’ll have them professionally framed, I decided to leave everything and do just that. The results are stunning.
Some twenty-three years ago, when my first child got engaged, I decided that I would try to give each of my newlywed couples a very special wedding present: a large needlepoint embroidered by yours truly. Well, um, rabos machshavos b’lev ish; some got, and some didn’t. Now, I was delighted to (finally) be able to give the other children what I hoped would eventually become family heirlooms, a piece of myself, something to remember me by, as well as assure that, at least b’derech hateva, these labors of love will not erroneously end up in the dumpster. I can just imagine that half a century from now, one of my great-grandchildren will point to my handiwork and tell her offspring about how the elta, elta bubby, the great tzedekes Devorah (hmmm….) would spend her afternoons at the park, fervently reciting Tehillim (while gabbing away with her friends) as she davened for her children’s hatzlachah and, never being one to let her hands sit idle, embroidered family heirlooms.
This Erev Pesach, I also spent quite a bit of time looking through all our old photographs — boxes and boxes of them, over forty years worth — and gave away over half of them to my children. (Disclaimer: poring over old photos does not magically get rid of the chametz. Rather, it’s using Pesach as an excuse to have fun.) Grinning toddlers in diapers, their faces and hair (ugh!) smeared with toothpaste; freckled girls in freshly pressed uniforms, their hair pulled tightly back into ponytails, showing off their brand new school bags; large hats balanced on the heads of new bar mitzvah bachurim; slightly dazed newly-engaged couples drinking a l’chaim, family wedding pictures. Not only did I enjoy a delightful trip down memory lane, I now have an entire empty shelf in my closet (hmmm… I better place a few strategic knickknacks there, before the tides of clutter rise to cover that shelf).
Reb Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, teaches that a person should strive to leave his daas in this world through doing something that will inspire future generations to come closer to Hashem. I have no doubt that my desire to leave a footprint on the world, to make sure that the children understand the stories behind the treasures, is part of a deeper need that all of us have to leave a piece of ourselves to those who come after us, to ensure that they will learn from our challenges and struggles as well as from the choices that we’ve made, and that by doing so, we have accomplished something of real, eternal value.
Oh, and speaking of leaving something for the next generation, while cleaning for Pesach this year, I stumbled across a needlepoint that I started over a decade ago and decided to finish it. Another yerushah for the grandchildren, and besides, it’s great therapy for stiff fingers.