A two-foot blonde doll with searching blue eyes, a blue Gymnic ball, baby’s first book, a hoopskirt with a purple butterfly, a scuffed CD player, coloring books, a Pink Princess mirror, used stuffed animals, board games with cracked edges, a shredder, laundry baskets filled with bulging sacks, a pink plastic phone without its receiver, and so much more.

A frigid morning last week, strong-hearted John lugged this stuff to my finished basement, the final task before showing the home he shares with my niece and their five children. With a contract upon another house, they hope for a quick sell.

Unaccustomed to clutter, I slowly took in those piles during basement walks (it being too cold outdoors) and discovered a world of stories: Nolan’s first Mummy’s Day gift – a pot with flowering acrylics, a photo board of smiling tykes, an old easel with paint smudges, a Zoo House with multiple tasks for gummy fingers. With each walk, more stories of subtle messing around emerged, the substance of their family life. From it all came 24/7 nurturing supporting incremental changes.

However one story, I discovered, continues touching me. Stuck in one of the laundry baskets was a long stemmed white satin rose, with a discolored card affixed by a white ribbon. On it, was printed: Name of Mother, with my niece’s name filled in, and the expected due date, July 2, 2006. At the bottom of the card, was typed, “Following the birth of your baby, please feel free to take this rose home. May God bless you and your baby.”

But the birth was unfortunate. Still in the delivery room, my niece held her brain-damaged daughter in her arms and tearfully named her Finley, a name meaning courage. A comely eight-year old with a wide smile, she continues teaching us.