It sits on top of the cabinet in the corner, gathering dust. The memento. Collected where, Lilah wonders. A souvenir of what trip? Of what event that will never come again? Lilah recalls the roadside Stuckey’s stores of her childhood, with their ticky-tacky mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and tee shirts with garishly bright pictures of beaches or mountains, place names slashed across in giant lettering. Tchotchkes—that’s the word. She forms the consonants again with her teeth and tongue. Tchotchkes. Tchotchkes. Tchotchkes. Cha-cha-cha.
What is this object, and where did it come from? Lilah sprays her cloth with glass cleaner and wipes the uneven surfaces. Ah. As years’ worth of grime comes off, she can see that it’s an owl, not uniformly grey, as first appeared, but speckled—brown, ivory, and some dusky shade. Its context now missing, she wonders who would want this ceramic predator. Shrugging, Lilah sets it in the box of objects that will probably end up at the thrift store after her brothers and sisters, nieces, and nephews take one last look. Remaindered, like a book nobody wants to read.
This work is exhausting! Lilah sinks into the old armchair, releasing a cloud of dust that undoes much of her afternoon’s work. What, she wonders is the good of a memento when the person to be reminded—of a trip, a birthday party, a beloved gift giver—now isn’t really there.
It would be so pleasant to reminisce, to spend an afternoon drinking tea or Pepsi and recalling scenes from shared occasions. “Do you remember the way we used empty rolls of wrapping paper as trumpets? the two-headed ghost costume? the frozen turkey neck for crab bait? And the time you bought this owl–where was it? And what did Dad say?”
But Mom’s memory is evaporating. She has a mind like a sieve. She’s lost her marbles. Nothing left but a few old swing tunes, nursery rhymes, the occasional stray thought.
Lilah’s thoughts are straying, too. Like untethered goats that will not be corralled. What else was she supposed to do in this house this afternoon? She can’t bring it to mind. She needs someone to re-mind her—to focus her attention on the intended task. It terrifies Lilah to think that her own memory lapses—these little gaps—presage the dementia that now holds her mother in thrall.
De-mentia, meaning out of her mind, or away from her mind. Present in a room, while her mind is roaming down some dark hallway, lost, afraid, crying to be reunited with the person it has always been a piece of, repeating its mournful cry, like an owl at night. Wanting to be joined again, to be part of a whole, put back together, re-membered.