Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Keepsakes: Keep a Few

My mother recently passed away.  She was 85 and the matriarch of our large family of six children, 20 grandchildren and 28 (and counting) great-grandchildren.  My dad has been left kind of bewildered and lost.  “I was supposed to go first,” he says, “I don’t know what to do with everything.”

My mom did not hold on to “things.”  Oh, she had her collections of eagles, American flag pins and milk glass – but other things she threw away with great sense of purpose.  She did not like clutter or sentimental junk.  Our schoolwork, craft projects, outgrown clothes, old toys and games were thrown away without fanfare.

I guess she came by this habit naturally, having grown up in rooming houses with her grandmother.  She moved often and lived in small quarters.  Her married life wasn’t much different.  We continued to move from town to town as our family grew.  We moved once a year for six years in a row, following construction jobs around the Northwest.  She became expert at throwing things out so that the belongings of our family of seven could fit into one small moving van.  Out it went.

But it hurt when she threw away gifts that we made especially for her, like the pillowcases I spent many hours embroidering and the appliquéd placemats and table linens that I sewed for her one year.  And it wasn’t just gifts.  She threw away cards, letters, announcements and programs.  She deleted projects, programs and photos from her computer the instant she thought she was done with them; often creating frantic calls for help when she discovered she needed something that had disappeared from her recycle bin which she emptied regularly.  “Get rid of it,” was her motto.

It drove me crazy.  I could not understand how she could throw away the things that tug at heartstrings – those cards and letters and little pieces of written words that tell the story of our lives.  A few years ago she even threw out a poem she wrote about her five daughters that we all loved.  My sister Norma copied it in calligraphy and decoupaged it onto a plaque in the 70s.  One day it was gone off the wall.  Just gone.   

That is why the manila envelope my father handed me last weekend came as such a surprise.  Dad had discovered a large envelope of “things” stuffed in among her hundreds of files of carefully catalogued and recorded genealogical records.  Inside he found bits and pieces from each of us: a valentine from Mike, a poem from me, a birthday card from Debby, a letter from Norma, a map from Becky (showing where to find her one day when she ran away from home) and a hand-drawn picture from Donna
There weren’t many, and some were yellowed and falling apart, wrinkled or twisted – but there they were.  Some were taped to copy paper and others written on notebook paper or old stationary – but there they were. 

And, they are wonderful.  We laughed and cried and read them to one another.  The good memories flooded in on the wings of misspelled words and childish scrawls.  I know experts say to throw out clutter and not to get emotionally attached to “things.”  But hand written or drawn “things” help tell your story and I think you should hang on to just a few – like my mom.

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