Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Last Will and Testament
My mother was a booklover and never without a volume on her aproned lap when she waited for the Sunday roast to finish cooking. Books, magazines, newspapers, even pamphlets overflowed every flat surface in our living room. Even my rambunctious brothers paused now and then to read Dickens and other literature. And Mom made sure we visited the fine old library in our town often, where she made friends with all the librarians, including one who was a lovely young mother with an understanding smile.
I had a shyness around Mrs. Grice not only because she was friendly with my mother but also because her son was in my class. But she often made approving comments about the books I selected to take home and once she winked at me when she noticed that Little Women was again on top of my take-home stack.
In Little Women the youngest sister Amy is banished to Aunt March's until sister Beth recovers from Scarlet Fever. Of course, sadly, we all know Beth never fully recovers and just a few short years later, dies in the most poignant piece of sisterly love in literature ever written. But Amy, unlike her other siblings Jo and Meg, never had the Fever and has to be quarantined at her unpleasant great aunt's for "the duration". Naturally no young vivacious girl wants to have an extended visit with a crochetty dispirited relative but Amy bore her trial very well, partly because she made certain preparations ahead of time.
Upon reading Little Women as a child, I was immensely interested in the Last Will and Testament that Amy wrote. Like me, Amy's holdings were very small and yet, she made thoughtful provisions for all her things including her turquoise ring. Since both my sister and I were gifted turquoise rings that year from an uncle out west, we got the bright idea to draw up our own will and testament.
The dearth of our belongings and the fact that my sister and I shared so many things, we decided just one will and testament would be sufficient for our assets, including our turquoise rings. The list was not lengthy but it included, besides the rings, two small hand-painted floral jewelry boxes with twirling ballerinas beneath mirrored lids, a gold-toned brush and comb set with etched flowers, some multi-colored dimestore headbands with perilously sharp teeth, a pastel wind-up teddy bear that played Lara's Theme, and a purple book of poetry that I still own.
We set to the task of writing our will using Amy's as a frame of reference. It was all so earnest and serious. I don't remember leaving anything to my brothers but both my grandmothers were willed the headbands and we generously bequeathed the rings to Mom. Our closest friend made out the best with the book of poems, the gold dresser set, two jewelry boxes (she had a lot of costume jewelry that we coveted), and the teddy bear, a favorite of mine. I had nary a thought for my poor mother and what she would have felt to inherit TWO turquoise rings belonging to beloved daughters who just happened to meet an untimely and unexpected double demise.
My sister and I told no one about our Last Will and Testament and like most children, we quickly became engrossed in other activities and forgot about the document...at least until we were suddenly dispatched to the library. Unknown to us, our will had been returned tucked inside one of our many borrowed books for all the world to see. Having our names spelled out front and center on the will, middle names included, meant Mrs. Grice had no problem realizing who the authors were.
As much as I dreaded fetching our will from a public place, from our classmate's mother, Mrs. Grice handled it with a sense of urgency and seriousness much like Laurie did the night his carriage drove Amy to Aunt March's for her internment. When Amy asks him to execute her wishes if need be, Laurie's tender reassurance and sense of gravity comes through in his response - he will gladly be her executor and disperse her bestowals should she die of Scarlet Fever. Thus was the serene and lovely Mrs. Grice when I approached the library's check-out desk. Kindly, she pulled a long sealed envelope from a discreet place under the counter. With penmanship as neat and pretty as my mother's, she had written, "The Misses Macdonald". Inside, neatly folded, was our Last Will and Testament. I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, was said when she handed the envelope over to us. But I gratefully recall a gentle smile that had not the least bit of mocking amusement in it.