“I called it!”
That’s what we would say as children when everyone wanted the same thing: the last piece of cake. One squirt gun. The last E ticket at Disneyland. All hands would fly forward — slap! Stake your claim! The person whose hand arrived first would screech, “I called it.” And it would be theirs. My mother would let us work it out.
In my imperfect memory, as the youngest, I can feel the disappointment in my chest of never being able to call fast enough, slap my hand at the lightening speed of my big sisters. Six years younger than my twin sisters, and three younger than my brother (ok — 2 years and 10 months), I remember that what I was given was often the result of my sister Julie’s intercession: “That’s not fair. Give it to her.” Charity. If I got what I wanted, it was through charity. I’m sure my siblings remember it differently. I was the youngest. I got whatever I wanted. “How come you got to have braces?” my sister once asked. “How come you got to go to a dermatologist for your acne?” So much hurt, just below the surface. The problems of the privileged.
Sometimes Julie would intercede for my brother with a social-order logic. “He’s the only boy. He should have it,” for items that seemed boy-oriented to our 1960s sensibilities. It wasn’t something you fought. It was just a logic you accepted with a small sinking of the heart, powerless to change the social order. I had not been born a boy. Boys were special, exceptional, followed in the family footsteps, owned the family name. Our claim even on the name was temporary.
“Can I have that when you die?”
I imagine the first time one of us said this was when my sisters were in elementary school, after my grandmother Bounce died and her belongings were divided up between my mother and her two sisters. We were aware that something has to happen to your stuff after you die. That someone gets it.
I remember Julie saying it most often to my mother — never to Dad. “Can I have that when you die?” She was the one most interested in death. “What music do you want to have played at your funeral?” she would ask. “What kind of service would you like?” Never mind that Julie was only ten years old, or that my mother was in her 40s. Julie was curious and intense. She needed to know. My mother took it all in stride. “Put your name on the bottom,” my mom would reply to inquiries about items. She picked out music and liturgy, ready for the big day decades before it arrived.
We had all been told the story of one of my grandparent’s family split — either Grandmother Bounce’s parents or Grandfather Joe’s parents. When they passed away, the children, who had been born in two sets — four older children, then a split of nearly 8 years, and four more younger children — fought bitterly over the material legacy of the family. It wasn’t an argument over big items — land or property. It was the small items that tore them apart: china and furniture. My mother didn’t want that to happen to us.
So now, as we talk about who gets what, these issues come up again:
Someone put their name on the bottom of an item in 1978. SLAP! “I called it!”
Someone else remembers mom’s words — “Mom wanted us to go in order, oldest to youngest, to choose items.”
Certain items should go to my brother, who, like my father, became a doctor. “Jim should have that. He’s the only boy.”
Certain items should go to my daughter, the only girl cousin, who, like my mother, loves to sew.
“We should have that since we have boys. Pink won’t work for us.”
“We’ve already picked out a spot for that.”
“We only want a few select items.”
“Those come as a set. They shouldn’t be divided.”
“These are my choices, in this order.”
“I don’t want anything.”
“I can’t take anything.”
“Someone needs to take that. It means a lot to Dad.”
“We can’t store it. We have no room for it.”
So much emotion stored in every item. So much emotion, stored in every word.