The Will

When objects of affection become objects of affliction

By Cynthia Adams

Illustration by Harry Blair


Our house, a mishmash of objects from yard sales, consignment shops or the emptying out of dead relatives’ homes, has soul.

Soul takes time. Hours haunting antique shops and junking here and abroad. Nostalgia is a huge aspect of what made the cut. It took years to put together a service for 12 (of pre-Occupied Japan) blue willow china like my great-grandmother Lauretta’s. Meanwhile, my husband scoured for ancestral John Gould bird prints.

Yet some of our best finds were free! A vintage Spanish chandelier was salvaged from a neighbor’s trash can one Monday morning — a magpie’s eye caught the twinkle of a dangling crystal. I’ve sanded and painted chairs pulled from the curb. My heart palpitates whenever I open a magazine and see what an inventive someone refashioned from frumpy to fabuloso.

In theory, these objects are wonderfully unified and appealing. They are rounded out by artworks from long gone or newly emerging artists. Subject matter is freewheeling. (An artist friend, Harriet, pointed out that I had unwittingly amassed a collection of infant portraits, memorialized after their untimely end.) Initially thunderstruck, I kept them out of sight for a period, but now they are back on display and comprise my Dead Baby Collection.

Don’t judge.

When it was time to update our will, I composed a family email. What would they like to have earmarked for them when we slipped off the raft and dog paddled to the far shores of Valhalla?

A long silence ensued.

Perhaps they disliked thinking about our inevitable deaths. Then again, maybe it was something else.

At last, a lonely, succinct response. My brother John emailed: I don’t want any of your crap. We’ve got too much of our own to deal with.

John is pragmatic. He owns no dead baby portraits. By age 7, he was way ahead of Marie Kondo, the clear out your closets and be magically transported to happy guru. Kondo has sold over 6 million copies of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo has a method. So does my brother: Don’t accept crap, not even from your big sister.

My nephew Travis didn’t want anything either but pleaded we please get rid of an oil portrait and a sculpture, both, apparently, “with bad mojo.”

Oddly, he didn’t mention the Dead Babies.

A sentimental niece was phoned. Jesus, I wanted Kelly to want something.

She hesitated. I held my breath. “Well, there is something,” she said shyly. “You know that statue of the dog at your front door? I always liked that.”

It is a concrete dog that reminded us of our schnauzer, moldering with age and bearing sweet Kip’s dog collars and tags. No blue-and-white china. No bird prints. No dead baby portraits.

That’s it?”

“That’s all I can think of right now,” she replied softly. “Sorry.”

No takers.

We ended the call; I stared off into the stormy clouds beyond my office window. I considered the fate of my grandmother’s button box. My mother-in-law’s thimbles. Political memorabilia.

Memento mori.

Damn that Marie Kondo! I felt magically transported, alright, with one foot on the raft.

Cynthia Adams is no millennial and has no idea how to live the Marie Kondo way. She is a contributing editor to O.Henry, the flagship publication of Seasons.

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