the second question

I hesitate to use the word ‘collector’. Many times it conjures up images of crammed shelves filled with wide-eyed porcelain figurines or collectible teacups. There’s nothing wrong with those things, mind you, but they weren’t really my mother’s style.

Let’s just say she enjoyed hearts. Especially unusual hearts. She found them difficult to pass up in antique shops or a good Jones Store department sale. 

As a result, I, too, find myself eyeing knick knack hearts. They are a universal symbol of love. But for me, they are also a nice reminder of my mother.

I wouldn’t call myself a collector either. Unless we talk about people’s stories. I am a sucker for a good story. Most of the books I’ve read over the years that stand out as favorites, are usually an intimately shared memoir or a big sky coming-of-age story. I am a pile of hard rocks when it comes to crying over the things most people find themselves easily weeping about. But give me a good Steve Hartman opening line and I’m a puddle of messy tears.

Collecting people’s stories has taken some practice, especially in current times. We are quick to give answers, many times assuming others do not want to truly hear how we’re doing or what our job is or how many children/grandchildren we have. We have cursory answers that almost always suffice – quick and to the point. I have found, however, the bigger story gets edged out of hiding at the moment of the second question. So how old were you when you started that hobby? Wait a minute, I don’t understand – where did you meet again? Tell me a little more about the town you grew up in…

The second question seems to be the go-ahead. The absolutely-I-want-to-know-more. The open-ended permission to go a little deeper. The whos and the whys and the wheres of a person’s life story are fascinating to me. I collect them covetously and the best part is – they don’t require much dusting.

I bought this wooden heart on the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. As I type that I instinctively think about all she has missed in the last decade. Truthfully though, it was the eight years prior that she really missed out on, Alzheimer’s stealing each moment. I’d like to believe she’s been keeping an eye on the last ten. Mom was a strong woman. In a pinch, she’d be the one you counted on for no hysterics and a calm, steady voice. But her softer side came out when she held her newborn grandchildren or when she read from her red-pencil-underlined Bible. When she gathered with her siblings (the youngest of five children) she unexpectedly fell back into the youngest of the family role, deferring to her older siblings. 

Her tenderness also came through when she let her gaze take a second look at the brass jewelry holder at the store, now etched with her initials. Or the small red heart lapel pin or the antique heart with removable lid (still filled with a few safety pins, a teacher’s milestone pin and some ancillary buttons.) Her subtle tenderness came through where words sometimes failed her. 

In a time of societal disconnectedness, ask the second question. It will take more time and it might get lengthy or circuitous in nature, but it will lead the teller of the story to a soft remembrance and you to a better understanding of their life and your expansive capacity to share in it.

Where did you get that wooden heart decor? Why did you choose that particular one? Everyone has a section of their life story they’re waiting to make known. Be on the receiving end of that gift. 

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