The Paris Review

Sum Effects

When my grandmother died she owned no property, personal or real; no goods, durable or consumable. Personal property is also called movable property, personalty, movables, chattels (chattels first meant goods and money, and later came to be associated with a beast held in possession, livestock, cattle; chattel, as slaves, came into use in the seventeenth century), and under U.S. law can be further divided into tangibles and intangibles. Tangible property can be felt or touched and intangible property is immaterial. Personal effects are tangibles; debt and goodwill, intangibles. (And then there was paraphernalia, a specifically female version of personal effects: these are called her paraphernalia … the apparel and ornaments of the wife, which also included tableware and sometimes her bed.) Real property, with its echoes of real estate, realty, royalty, realm, kingdom, is immovable property, land and the structures on it. Durable goods, also known as hard goods, have a useful life of three or more years, and consumable goods, also known as soft goods, get used up or discarded; a further subset is known as perishables, goods prone to disintegration or decay. Personal or real, tangible or intangible, durable, hard, soft, consumable, or perishable: my grandmother owned none of it. Goldyne Alter died with no possessions. She didn’t leave a thing, save her body and that, of course, would be gone soon, too.

My grandmother was under my custodianship, a kind of power, although.) There had been a wedding ring, removed before she went into the nursing home and then stored in a safe-deposit box; a heavy gold choker that sat on one’s neck like a snake, passed on to my mother and then to me but never worn; a small ruby ring, possibly a child’s, which I lost in a motel room. She died without anything to her name, a phrase that arguably has its origins in the ability to sign one’s name to a binding document, a right that many women were long denied. , civil death.

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