Savour, Don’t Save

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Author Erma Bombeck wrote humorous and insightful essays about family life. One has particular meaning for me. In it, looking back on her life, she recalls with regret a pretty candle, never lit, that melted in storage, and a set of china carefully packed away.

“If I could live my life over again,” she says, “I would have used those pretty dishes—and not only on special occasions but every day.”

My mother was a proponent of the “save rather than savour” approach to life. When she passed away she left behind a sideboard full of gold-rimmed china dishes that had never been used, silver cutlery that never graced a table, and delicate lace tablecloths that never replaced the worn, torn, Scotch-taped dime-store plastic table cover.

From closets and cupboards and shelves my dad and I unearthed boxes of gifts bought but never sent; piles of books unread; bins of fabric and unopened patterns she meant to sew for the grandkids; cookbooks with pristine pages.

We found a shoebox containing several dozen “happy birthday” cards she purchased over the years to send to her 11 grandchildren. Sadly, they never made it to the mailbox. Nor did she ever “get around” to phoning the kids. One day a young son asked me “Why does Grandma hate us?”

Shocked, I said “Grandma doesn’t hate you, sweetheart, she loves you very much.”

“Then why doesn’t she ever call or visit us?” he replied. My heart ached as I explained that Grandma lived far away, was very busy, and was sure to call soon. How could I explain to him that Grandma was just bogged down in a morass of inertia?

My mother’s life was an endless bucket list of things she didn’t get around to: vacations to exotic locales planned but never realized; art classes embarked upon but abandoned; family genealogy questioned but never researched; and – saddest of all – a cobweb-draped motorcycle in the garage. Her past was littered with plans aborted, opportunities missed, dreams unfulfilled. “I was gonna….” was her constant mantra. My dad joked that her epitaph should read “She was gonna.”

From an early age I was determined that my path would be different. I would seize the day! At age 19 I ran away with the love of my life. Our wedding registry list included an axe and a Coleman stove. (Some people ignored the list and gave us frivolous items such as china, crystal glasses and silver cutlery. We thanked them anyway.) Our honeymoon took place in a tent on Long Beach, Vancouver Island. Over the years we had many adventures: visiting New York City in the company of a 19-month-old baby and an elderly, diminutive East Indian holy man in orange robes (don’t ask); selling our first home to finance the purchase of a small town newspaper; raising six kids in that small town; taking our brood abroad to New Zealand, Scotland and Europe; and, upon retirement, leaving that small town after what my husband called “40 years in the wilderness” to start over in the Comox Valley.

It was while packing for this move that I realized just how much stuff I had accumulated in those 40 years! Shelves of books unread; bins of fabric and patterns never sewn; cookbooks with pristine pages. An idle sewing machine. A piano coated with dust. Notebooks crammed with songs written but unsung. And, yes—birthday cards in a shoebox! And I realized just how often I am guilty of saying “I was gonna…”

Well, no more. As I reluctantly enter a new chapter of life called “widowhood,” I have the opportunity to turn “I was gonna” into “Look, Ma! No regrets!”

Shake off the cobwebs! Burn the pretty candle! Break out the crystal, the silver, the lace! Love those grandkids! Send those cards! Dust off that piano! Record those songs! Plan that trip to Tahiti! Life is to be savoured, not saved.

I want my epitaph to read “Beloved wife, mother, grandmother. She shared her strengths, her talents, her love. She savoured life. She truly did it all.”

Jacqui Graham
Jacqui Graham
Jacqui Graham has six grown kids and eight delightful grandkids age 6 months to 11 years. If she had known how much fun grandkids would be, she would have had them first!

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