Sometimes things are more than just things.
About a week and a half after my mom died, I had to go to my dad’s house with some paperwork. Somehow, once again, it falls on me, the organized one, to handle all of the paperwork whether I know what I am doing or not.
While I was there, my dad wanted to go through my mother’s stuff. I decided I would help him go through her trunk, but the actual closet would have to wait for another day.
In her trunk was a mixture of things- clothes, linens, mementos. With each thing I pulled out and asked my father about, his response was the same, “I don’t need any of that junk.” I kept trying to not get upset, the pain still raw at this point.
In that trunk was a small plastic bag which held the lace gloves and white garters my mother had worn at their wedding 60 years ago. When I got the same response about these items, I slipped them in my purse.
Weeks later, a few days before my mother’s memorial, I returned to my father’s house to go over his plans for the service and to help him with the closet. Again, as I pulled out things, I asked if he had any interest in keeping anything. Again I heard, “I don’t need any of that junk.”
I emptied the closet, mostly to carry to give away, but this time I made my own small stack of things to keep. Some of the dated clothing would go well in my costume closet and some things I just couldn’t give up quite yet. I found a few things I knew meant the world to her, so I kept them because now they mean something to me.
Just as I shared in my last post, clothes meant something to my mom and me, so I remembered things she had worn as I pulled them out of the closet.
One coat in particular brought back memories. She had bought it in Chicago so it is a super warm, furry coat. (Not fur- fur-ry.) It is winter white with big buttons. It had a few spots of dirt on it and was dirty around the pockets, so I took it to the cleaners and it came out looking pretty good. It is hanging right in front of me as I write, it is comforting to see. I might not ever wear it, but I might. I might need to wrap that big, fuzzy coat around me like a hug in the days to come.
Looking at this coat made me think about “things.” I have lots of “things” and as I age I hear my friends say they are going through their stuff so their kids won’t have to. I get that, but I can’t do it.
Years ago, when my son was a teenager, a friend of ours at the time bought a fancy, three thousand square foot loft built in an old church. I remember my son being impressed with its high ceilings and the large, open concept. There was a lot of empty space and when we left my son said he wanted a place like that someday, a big space with not much in it.
I came home after that and made the decision to clear out all of the junk in our house, the brick-a-brack that we don’t need. I got a huge, black garbage bag and started at the front of our house, ready to get rid of the clutter.
Hours later I sat in the middle of the house, my objective abandoned and one small thing in my trash bag. Instead of organizing and cleaning, I was looking through photo albums and remembering days gone by.
Every item in our house means something to me. It is art work done by a friend, a figurine given to me by a kindergarten student, a souvenir of a trip, a memory from a play or a gift from a pal. As I picked up an item to toss I remembered where it came from and why I had saved it. Memories flooded back and soon I was lost in days gone by.
In my library among the books for kids and devotionals I love, I have a shelf of my journals dating back over 50 years. I have my journals from when I was 8 years old until now. Some days I will pull one out and read about myself as a youngster, what I thought, how I felt. If I wonder about me at any age, I can go back and see, the memories don’t have to just be pulled from my forgetful mind.
Dishes I have are from our wedding or given to me by friends. They bring up memories of family dinners, good and not so good. Souvenir plastic cups in the cupboard cover many schools that my son played football against in high school and college.
In my living room I have a large basket full of thank you notes. Thank yous for gifts, for donations, for help, for teaching. We all have received those kinds of notes, but I still have mine. When I have one of those days that I feel “less than”, I can pull out a few notes and reread the kind things people have said to me. And when I can’t take time to read, I just look at the overflowing basket- it reminds me that I have done some good in the world and I need to do more.
If there was ever a fire, I would grab my guys and my sweet cat and I would leave all of these things, because I know they are just that- things. And I know that some people see these things as clutter and “dust catchers.” But to me, my collections and mementos make me happy. I can see a painting on the wall and think of my friend Diane, or see the red metal heart with twisty, colorful streamers and remember my friend Sally. Laying on my sunflower pillow reminds me to text Norma and eating off of my brown and white dishes tells me to check on Mickey. Seeing my Alabama Santa that I leave out all year reminds me of Mr. Burgess and how much we all miss him and how proud he would be of Jon. When I see my collection of crosses I see the faces of the three year olds I taught for five years, the thanks from their parents, the beauty of each item and how different the same simple shape of a cross can be interpreted.
I know they are just things, but sometimes things are more than just things. They are our history, they are our memories, they are more than just junk to give away.
Maybe instead of me throwing out “things” so Jon won’t have to someday, I will hang on to all of this stuff. Then when I go, Jon can spend some time thinking, remembering and reflecting on who I was, just as I did when I went through my mom’s closet and saw the skirt I had worn in high school that she had hung onto. When I saw her old glasses, thick as coke bottles before thinner lenses were invented. When I found a necklace with a cross that she had hidden away from my dad that let me know somewhere deep inside she still believed.
I am so thankful she didn’t throw all of that old stuff away and I got to go through it one last time. Sometimes things are more than just things.