My sister, Buffy, and I have managed to pare down the items left behind by our parents after they left this earth, and any need they may ever have had for the things that still remain. Buffy and I were resolute about donating, passing on, and discarding. But we found ourselves haunted by the most humble and homely of collections — the family “rag bag.”

It was an institution in our home when we were growing up, and my mother continued the practice of maintaining a collection of cleaning cloths salvaged from worn out towels and clothing — especially our dad’s old tee-shirts. Mom had even made a sturdy drawstring bag to hold the rags that survived for decades. When Buffy and I went to divide the contents of the rag bag, it seemed the frayed remains of our entire lives spilled out on the floor. Bits and pieces of old cotton blankets and summer shirts, towels from bathrooms in long ago houses, and shirts with mustard stains from picnics and fishing trips from a lifetime ago — they all lay wadded up before us. We sat on the floor and went through it all with as much tenderness as anybody visiting the shrine of their ancestors. After awhile, Buffy wiped her eyes with an old golf towel of Mom’s, and we went back to the task that lay before us.