Monday, March 21, 2011

What's really important

She would lift me up just high enough to reach the tiny wooden ball and remind me to pull gently. The sun streamed through the glass front door and the room, with its white carpet and furniture, glowed. I grasped the little golden ball and as the string came out of the box I held my breath.

A week ago I traveled to my grandmother's home. She is in a nursing home now with no prospect of leaving. Her cognitive function is limited, her mental illness so bad she is on antipsychotic drugs, her physical health failing, too.

I picked up her dining room furniture, pieces that had been promised to me when I was a child. A thousand times, she told me the story of my uncle accidentally etching a map of the Hawaiian islands into the table top. It was funny then -- I suspect it was NOT funny at the time it happened. Now it is a story I tell my children as they trace their fingers over the shapes and the names of the islands. HAWAII, LANAI ... etching themselves into my children`s memories as they are etched in mine.

Things were important to my grandma. She said people were more important to her, but I disagree. Her home was filled with lovely things -- and many times if she liked something she bought it in every color or style. I never saw her give one thing away or donate anything to charity -- people who shop at Goodwill could not possibly care for her items properly. When I would tell her the things she no longer used could be useful to someone else she became angry.

She and my grandpa moved far away from their home of 40 years after a devastating flood. She moved EVERYTHING. The junk drawer. Hundreds of tubes of lipstick, some 40 years old. Clothes that were old, out of style, outgrown, damaged.

And now, her worst nightmare -- HER things, being pawed through by people, trying to clean things out. Vultures. I was one of them. It was awful.

I have a beautiful dining room set now, some lovely pieces of glassware and thousands of family photos. I have thrown away twice as many as I kept -- all those lovely landscapes on vacations? Don't bother, they will only be tossed away by the next generation. I have a few precious items that remind me of her, of my grandpa, of their lake cabin and their homes.

It has inspired me to clean things out. Why do I have all these books? They are just something for someone else to go through later. I donated 350 or more last week to our church book sale.

My genealogy is a puzzle. What to do with it in the event none of my sons want to continue the research? I need to find a place that will welcome the information and make it accessible to other family historians.

The photos. Oh, the photos. How I LOVE them. They are a touchstone, a key to the past, a glimpse of people long gone. But they lived. They breathed. They loved, they laughed, they cried. And they are part of me. Many things will go away to find homes elsewhere. The photos, well, I will try to organize them. Label them. Assemble them into a puzzle that others can understand.


I pulled the string one last time before I left the house, and the theme from Dr. Zhivago played. The string slowly wound into the music box plaque, and the little shiny ball made its slow journey back to its home. I wanted to take it with me, but it could not be the same in another house.


When I die, I want those who love me to keep things that make them smile. Things that have happy memories connected to them. Things they love. If my dining room set, so recently deposited here, fails to match in their houses, or if they hate it, or happy memories are absent from it, I want them to let it go. Keep what you want, sell or donate the rest. It is just stuff.

I love my stuff. I have made no secret here that I love stuff. Shiny things, sparkly things, craft supplies, photos ... but there are no words for me to express how I feel about my husband and children, about my parents, my brother, my extended family, my friends. If I love you, you know it. And stuff, no matter how cool or beautiful, is no replacement for the people who are my life.

If you are reading this, you are one of those people. And believe me, I am grateful for you, more than words could ever say.


  1. Going though stuff from Grandparents and Parents has left me to this same is only stuff. I LOVE the things we've kept, and wished that I hadn't sent some of the things to the Goodwill or yard sales, but again, it was only stuff. I am so glad you were able to go to her house, pull the string again, smell the smells again, enjoy the memories, show your kids some memories, and bring some things to remind you of your Grandparents back with you. You are very blessed.
    P.S....the pictures, I'm so jealous! It's funny how us picture people stick together...I am the picture person in our family. I love being the person who gets calls from nieces, nephews, parents, aunts, uncles to ask if I have a particular picture for their are awesome to be that person!

  2. Anonymous8:29 PM

    May no one else in this world have a "mother" (in-law) like the one I had. She had lots of "stuff", but honestly so many of us breathed a huge sigh of relief when she passed on to her eternal reward; she was not overly giving...except to the Family Favorites. Hubby and I were not among that group of fortunates!!
    Maybe now she can be happy, wherever she is.