I've known those owls all my life.
They sat in various positions around my grandmother's house for as long as I can remember. Only a handful, but somehow in her modestly decorated house they seemed prominent, representative of the wisdom we never questioned, and the order we instinctively understood.
My grandmother left this world after suffering for many years with Parkinson's Disease, and as she suffered, so did we. It's a disease that robs one of her ability to be happy, and in a woman who struggled with that from time to time anyway, the results were bleak. Her home didn't change much from year to year except to get slightly grayer; the owls, atop a shelf, watched us come and go.
After my grandmother's death, my mother asked me if there was anything of hers that I would like to have. A standard question.
What inheritance could possibly capture the complicated memories I had of my grandmother? Picking berries and fighting off early-morning mosquitoes; studding "mud pies" with fallen acorns under the carport; inhaling homemade cream puffs waiting for us as we descended from the school bus; the tremors; the refusal to leave the house; the flashes of calculated dismissiveness. What vase, or afghan, or trinket properly summarizes the life of the woman I both revered and slightly feared?
For whatever reason, my grandmother's small collection of ceramic owls always held a bit of magic for me, always reminded me of the wise and kind woman who looked over us before she could no longer. So it was those for which I asked.
I was given the owls, and in accepting them, I apparently also accepted the mantel of "owl collector." Because since that day, my friends and family shower me with owls of all shapes, sizes, colors and styles. They think of me when they see owls both real, stuffed, painted or molded. I have handcrafted clay owls, a Lenox fine china owl, owl Christmas ornaments, owl pajamas, even an owl nut bowl. Now I regulate how and when they appear, to keep from becoming a crazy owl lady. But I embrace the spirit with which they exist -- mere trinkets, yes, but reminders of a ferocity of spirit, hard-fought wisdom, constancy, and contemplation of the woman who never stopped loving me.