love people, use things

My elderly across-the-street neighbor recently moved to her daughter’s house. She had gotten to where she could not manage stairs and did not trust herself to drive. I hope I will be so wise to concede to this if I get there.

I did not know this lady well since I have only lived here for three years, but she would call now and then to chat and I enjoyed her calls.

As she prepared for her move she called one afternoon to let me know there would be several trucks coming to her house to pick up various pieces of furniture. She sounded sad and I waited silently as she gathered her thoughts.

“You know, they are just things, but no one in my family wants them.” I could hear her hurt as she spoke and I could sympathize.

I have my mother’s dining room furniture. Neither my son nor my brother wants it. Well, my brother wants the fiddle-back chairs. Our mom had the seats upholstered with needlepointed patterns she had done years ago. But no one wants the side boards, the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner china and casseroles or the silver. No one wants the very old china plates that my mother waited years for Dad to make plate rails for, and he never did. (You can buy them already made I learned)

So I could understand how my neighbor felt. I know these are things but they hold such memories. And they are beautiful pieces of furniture. And the silver no one makes like this anymore. But they are things. Everytime I get to the point where I think I will donate the lot someone (usually my brother) insists I keep it all, as though it is sacrilege to not want it. I am a practical-oriented person. If I don’t use something in, say over 15 years, it’s time to let it go.

I still have the memories. My mother is not a chair. My father is not in a table. Having the things we used when they were still living and we were a family together is not the same as having the people. And things, for me, do not extend to the person. I am grateful to have had such lovely things but, as with the piano that found a better home, wouldn’t it be preferable for a new family to enjoy them?

If I used these things it would make more sense to keep them. I do not entertain. My son especially since this virus, does not visit me and even when he did we never ate a formal meal.

If I were to leave this planet I cannot take these things with me. They will remain behind for someone to deal with. Everytime I move I occupy a small portion of a house that is mostly used to shelter the furniture I never enjoy. Just seems wasteful.

I have asked rescue dogs Lily and Lulu who have made it clear that they are only interested in being in whatever room I am in. If I am eating they are at my feet, wherever I am. They have their dog beds in every room, so they can rest on a comfy cushion wherever.

This should not be so difficult. I have books and clipped articles with tips on helping people declutter, downsize or minimize. Even one that I no longer have that was purported to be most authoritative, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”. Since (so far as I know) I am not on the brink of death this was a little too final. Even if my sister-in-law is Swedish.

time matters

In my brief attempt at a happy marriage I failed miserably in befriending my mother-in-law. After a couple of years my son was born and life for me had more purpose. Then the happy part of the marriage disappeared and so did my son and I. From the marriage at least. He was two and suddenly I was no longer a stay-at-home mom. Working both in and out of the home presented interesting challenges and required more than one calendar. But we managed it, even had a little fun.

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My son’s father had a liberal amount of visitation privileges so I signed my son up for frequent flyer programs. Most of our vacations were driving distance ones, but my brother lived in interesting places, Washington, DC, then New York city and invited us to visit. This way I only had to pay for one round-trip airfare and I felt like a genius. Although one of those visits was by train because, well, trains. They are an experience.

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So yes, some– well, most –of it was hard but my son doesn’t remember those parts. Thankfully he remembers the fun. And he surprised me this year with a Thanksgiving visit. Generally I visit my brother and his family in Houston, which is also where my son happens to live now. But my brother took his family to the Galápagos and my son’s girlfriend’s family were going to be in Houston instead of Colorado this year so my son had plans pretty well set, too. Which is ok, I have been on my own for many years now and don’t mind being by myself.  So when he called a couple of days before Thanksgiving I was delighted. And scrambled. Suddenly I needed a dinner and breakfast food. And everything was accomplished and the day was a great day.IMG_0291.JPG

We walked down by the river, noted little raccoon handprints and other unidentified tracks in the river mud. The wind was brisk which made standing out on the pier a challenge, and cold, so we did not stay out there for long. But Lily and Lulu with their fur coats and the fascinating scents found it hard to leave.

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Rescue dog Lily’s surgeon is concerned about her recent knee operation, that she might be rejecting a component which can happen occasionally and can be remedied, but requires another surgery. So the chances of seeing my family at Christmas don’t appear to be likely. So I was happy to have an opportunity to see my son.

But his life is busy and he works very hard, so his taking a little time to share with me is something for which I am very grateful.

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Happy memories.

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remembering in dreams

Both my parents have passed away. My mom over 30 years ago, my dad 13 years ago. We had stuff. Emotional, psychological. Some like most families, some not. I had frequent dreams about them after they died. Not awful, not exciting, they were just part of the dreams. The other day I realized I could not recall when I’d last dreamt with them in the dream. There’s been a lot going on and I tend to not remember dreams at all unless they are really lucid or vivid ones. So last night I dreamed about both of them. This dream was like a culmination of many memories from when they were living, when my son was small, when I worked for my father at his newspaper.

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Weird.

I woke not remembering clearly the dream itself as much as how I felt, and I felt much the same as I had when I was first divorced and had lost all sense of direction.

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Stressed, anxious, under pressure, inadequate. Horrible. I know in this dream, like in that part of my life I was doing the very best I could, trying too hard. I have no idea what prompted this dream or these memories. My roof has just finally been replaced, the insurance check which was more than the estimate came in time to pay the roofers. I gave them the full amount of the check, less what it would cost to paint the foyer ceiling. I do not know why I would have such a dream when my sense of responsibility is off the meter.

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My dream book says dreams of anxiety portend coming favorable circumstances. That seeking approval means instead of seeking approval from others I need to seek acceptance from myself. When parents appear in dreams after they have died it is a message of love and warmth, and sometimes a warning. Of what I have no idea.

Just hope the roof holds.

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courage

We lived in an older neighborhood when my brother and I were growing up. One summer day I found myself left to my own devices. I was in the backyard and our neighbors’ grandsons were visiting. They called me over to the chain-link fence between our yards.

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Smirking at each other one of the boys challenged me to a fight. I was only a girl, he said. I didn’t stand a chance. Surprised but up for a challenge, just not a fight I noted I was standing next to a small tree, maybe 6″ around, so I said he’d better not mess with me, I could pull that tree right out of the ground!

When they finished laughing bully boy put on his game face again and balled up his fists. Grabbing the tree I yanked with all I had. I landed hard several feet away, tree in my hands.

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Little tough guys stood gaping at me a few seconds. They practically knocked each other down running the other direction.

I’m still looking at this tree that, for its size was amazingly light. I walked over to where it had come out of the ground and saw it was crawling with ants. Completely rotted.

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Laughing, I looked up to yell, “hey, it’s a dead tree!” knowing the joke was on me.

They were gone. My bravado worked and no fists were flung.

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Just as well. They never bothered me again.

 

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Attachments

Because my step-mother survived my father when he passed away my brother and I were given 48 hours to collect our family belongings from his home. At one point we found ourselves sitting at Dad’s desk going through silly, superficial things– his pen holder, desk drawers filled with miscellany– paper clips, empty medicine bottles, toner cartridges, a pair of cufflinks, things that he touched, considered worth keeping. We wished hard for a transference of him as we looked at them, these insignificant items, representative of something that we wanted to give us just one more tangible connection to him, now gone.

Over the years I, too have an embarrassing accumulation of odd things that I cannot seem to bring myself to discard or give away. Someone will have to do it someday if I don’t. I particularly have a huge amount of Christmas ornaments and decorations. I have most of the ones we put on our trees when my brother and I grew up. Funny little porcelain angel bells with dainty faces, a reindeer painted on a sand dollar, a partridge in a pear tree a dear friend of my mother’s made for us.

Then I have ornaments I made the first Christmas I could not spend with my family because I was married, 8 months pregnant and my doctor advised against travel. So I made ornaments. Christmas patterned-fabric wreaths fashioned from little wooden curtain rings, sequined candy canes with little holly leaf and beads, and tiny bells. Sequin-covered stocking shaped styrofoam forms with little brown pompoms to make a bear with googly eyes. Ornaments my son had made in school, at festivals, on his own, and some he and I made one year together.

Then I moved and could not find any Christmas decoration boxes, so I bought kits to make new ones. Eventually over the years I have made or accumulated enough ornaments to decorate at least three Christmas trees. So I had to go through them.

Many of them were not hard to put in the give-away box. My marriage had ended in divorce so those ornaments no longer held any joy. So many of those purchased or made later, though pretty were also non-essential because I bought them in a panic. Not panic that I would have nothing to put on a tree but panic that I could not find those I loved so much.

That proverbial “Someday” when someone will inherit these, or buy them at an estate sale they may not find hands gently holding them with loving memories. But I was a part of what they represented for me, as well as others who were so important to me. And that is what matters. Not so much the things themselves.

The memories, echoes of laughter, and loving hearts.

Things that matter

Not long after my divorce my mother determined I had availed myself of her good graces long enough and she and I set out to look for an apartment for my 2-year-old son and me. We’d been staying in her and Dad’s guestroom for about a month and a half. Mother was never one to enjoy the company of anyone younger than say 23 sadly, so  we quickly found a suitable place to go. A complication: none of my things– furniture, china, etc., had made it from Tennessee where I’d lived a less than blissful life to Charlotte where my parents were. So Mother made a gift of a lovely wrought iron glass-topped table and 6 chairs and a sofa bed to use until I could arrange for my own things to be moved. Dad feeling Mother’s generosity still coming up short decided to take me shopping for a few more things. He, always knowing where to find a bargain knew of a department store liquidation and we set out. At the time I loved bamboo and wicker. We found a small wicker bookcase, two bamboo “arm” chairs and a garish mustard-yellow ginger jar lamp. I was thrilled! Dad said I looked like someone living in a thatched hut.

Eventually my own things came, my son and I left the apartment after about a year and again, Mother found a 2 bed, 2 bath condo not too far away. We moved.

Over the years some of the furniture changed, but that singular ginger jar lamp made every move, including this one. A total of 8 moves over the course of 30-some years. This past week I decided I needed a new sofa. As I pulled the small love seat away from the end table I saw the poor ginger jar lamp tipping. I had looped an extension cord under an area rug so nobody would trip over it and around one of the legs of the love seat. Before I could register how to get around the furniture to save the lamp it crashed to the floor. Not liking loud noises because she might be at fault my rescue dog Lily disappeared. I stood alone in the silence, looking at the smashed little lamp, too many pieces to repair it.

Slowly I set the love seat down wishing I’d asked a neighbor to help me do all of this. I walked over to the remnants of this lamp and remembered the rose-colored bulb Dad had initially used to light the lamp. He knew I was then as broken as the lamp was now and wanted somehow to make life appear rosy, in some way. And now my life is (somewhat) repaired, still a work in progress but the lamp was now irreparably broken.

Maybe it had lasted as long as it needed to. Still, it was one of the few tangible memories I had of a rare time with Dad. I didn’t cry over it, not at first. But remembering all those years where he and Mom did so much to help me put my life back together, I think I might cry now.

the sins of my youth

There is something about transitions– moving, marriage, break-ups, deaths, births, –that makes us examine ourselves, or causes memories, thoughts to surface, and we have to deal with them. Some of them I’d rather ignore, like too many lost weekends in college when the freedom I truly thought I already knew was far more than I could handle– keg parties, skipping classes (not for long), being the farthest from my family than I had ever been and that first Easter I could not get home. I was beside myself.

Not many of these have escaped my thoughts and generally surface in the wee hours, 1, 2 or 3 a.m., when there is nothing but dark, which may be the kindest time, with no glaring light to overexpose them into the garishness they were, or are now that I know better. Bad choices in relationships and hanging on too long, disrespect toward my mother and father, not to a degree worthy of incarceration but such that I feel remorse and now can do nothing about. Opportunities I did not take for whatever reason, that I sometimes wonder, what if?? or if only…

The worst of these have been my fears and indifference. Situations I allowed to escalate because of fear of making things worse and did not step in, or times where leave well enough alone was the best course and I did not, mucking about until it became distorted beyond its original chaos. The indifference is what scares me most I think. Times when I became dispassionate about something very important to me because my meager efforts had proved fruitless and I became discouraged or, worse, decided whatever I could do would not be enough and therefore did nothing.

Sometimes we have no idea I think of the effect we have on life. I know much has been said about the “butterfly effect” where something so seemingly insignificant as the blithe flap of a paper wing creates a tsunami on the other side of the world. Who knows? We rail and beat ourselves silly about things that do not matter much, and barely give a nod to those that do. Or we agonize over choices we make, never knowing the outcome or consequence or result of that which is not chosen, and wonder if the choice we made would matter as much as the one we did not.

Isaiah 30:21

Reunions

I have never been to a college reunion. Not sure why not, maybe because my involvement was minimal. I was far too young when I attended college, even younger when I graduated. Maybe some 17- 18- 19-year-olds know what they want to do with the rest (or most) of their lives. Or at least have some specific interest with which to put their parents’ tuition payments to good use. Not me. I had no idea. Coasted through high school enjoying the occasional English teacher’s pat on the head for a particularly perceptive essay. Probably random. I did not excel at either math or any science, things which are pecuniarily useful. I did love to read and would analyze or critique but, being immature, agonized over the “right” bias or slant, so would often return a paper with such broad, vague sweeping statements there was really no focal point at all. And often my initial reaction or thoughts would be pretty sharp, but that insecurity shadowing me forbade me reveal my inmost thoughts.

So college. That freedom did not entrance me. When my parents left me at the dorm that rainy Sunday to return home, 600 miles away, I wept. My first roommate terrified me. She jumped into the liberal part of arts with both feet. She never went to classes, and I spent most of my first semester nights on the common room couch, waiting either for the funky smoke to clear or the boyfriend to leave or both. When she flunked out before second semester I became an intern, a sort of floor monitor. So basically I only knew the other housing staff members because we were more or less seen as police officers extinguishing all sorts of fun and frolic since we were paid by the college to do so.

But I did go to a high school reunion, my 25th. There were a handful of us there out of a class of 29, and we all were really glad to see each other. I have another one coming up, a much bigger number, and the names of many who are emailing are foreign or even unknown to me. These must be would-have-been classmates had they actually stayed and graduated with our class. Since I came in the 11th grade many of these were names I had never heard but seem familiar to a few of those I did know. So no, I won’t attend this one. It would be like going to a reunion for a class I never even knew. That would all but nullify my less-than solid connection to the ephemeral 2-years I enjoyed at a high school that completely changed my life for the better. I’d rather hold onto the wonderful memories I do have than fling them to those who had nothing to do with them.

Left No Forwarding Address

So a week ago I was buying a house. In the next 24 hours the sellers defaulted on the contract; they did not offer anything in writing showing they would provide for or perform repairs the inspection turned up so we terminated.

But when I thought I was going to move, I marveled at the amount of catalogs and junk mail that gets stuffed in the mailbox, especially this time of year. So I told myself, just give forwarding information to magazines, organizations and people I want to have my new address (all my bills are paid online) and don’t leave a forwarding address. None of that stuff will follow you.

Then I began wondering: what kind of life am I living where people will know what kind of address at which I will ultimately find myself? Of course at that point I will be unreachable (despite what Mitch Albom’s new fiction novel purports in receiving communications), but like my parents and a few friends who have already moved into a new dimension I’d like for people to think better of where I wind up.

Nobody can send anything to me (except prayers), I can’t bring stuff, but I doubt I will miss any of what is down here. Which makes me wonder why it is so difficult to let go of some things?

I have a necktie my dad used to wear to the office when I worked with him. It has a knight in armor, lance drawn, on horseback. It’s a pretty garish tie, brown and orange as I remember, not silk even, but that tie is one of my cherished possessions. He would wear that tie on days I felt the smallest, most hopeless and wondered whether or not I could ever accomplish any of the things he was working hard at training me to do. When he wore the tie I knew he had figured out something to fix everything, and he did. Presumably when my time comes I will see my dad again, and my mom, but I still can’t bring myself to give her silver to my brother, who entertains far more than I and might make good use of it, nor can I get rid of that tie.

I have my dad’s shaver, a camera still in its box, and the barrel to my brother’s .22 rifle that Dad taught him how to shoot with. No idea what ever became of the stock.

Oh, I also have some photos and a scrap book with memories of the Nutcracker in New York which Dad took me to see every year from when I was around 8, sugar packets from a trip to Aspen, matchbooks, playbills and cocktail napkins. Somehow these tangible things make me feel closer to my memories of Dad, but more than that I guess both he and my mom still speak to me in my heart, if I make myself very still.

So families and very good friends, no matter where we go, somehow keep our addresses, and we theirs, and we don’t lose touch