Memorial Day 2016
As Forgetfulness Sneaks Up

The Ordinary Artifacts of Everyday Life

Because we are human, we have our frailties. One of mine is that it is hard to imagine the world without me in it, a world in which I am not taking up some amount of space along with the things, the stuff that mean something to me. That's not uncommon and maybe it is also not uncommon that it comes to mind more than occasionally.

It's been like that with me even when I was young but it happens more frequently now as my age makes it impossible to ignore the fact that the day approaches when I will be gone.

Often it is the objects of my life that occasion these thoughts - favorite items, ordinary stuff I use around the house, that cause me to contemplate my not too distant fate and their fate too: how they will be hauled off to a dump after the better part of a lifetime of good and useful service.

A cast-iron frying pan. Nothing fancy and not particularly large, eight or nine inches, bought when I lived in my first apartment at age 16. Other pans have come and gone, scratched, worn out or damaged in some other way. But this one is as good as it was on the first day, almost 60 years ago.

My sofa has been with me for about 35 years and it is much older than that. A friend found it at the Salvation Army and telephoned me to get there before someone else bought it. It was perfect, she said, for my then-new apartment and she was right.

Carved, wooden frame and front arm panels, obviously an antique that was newly reupholstered when I bought it for $250. Many friends have slept on that sofa; all have praised its comfort as well as its beauty. It pleases me as much to look at it from a chair across the room as to sit or lie on it to read or contemplate my ultimate destiny.

A younger everyday object is my dining room sideboard that was new, made just for me, in the mid-1990s. My friend Neil Thompson built it to fit into a uneven setback in the wall next to my desk in New York City - an odd, trapezoid space duplicated in this personalized piece of furniture. Who will know the reason for it's peculiar shape when I am gone.

There are some other things whose little stories from one person's life, like these, will die with me. Until then, in their daily ordinariness after so many years with me, they are old friends. They help hold together the continuity of my years and give me pleasure still to see and use.

This came to mind a few days ago when I was perusing an old book of poems by U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, one that I may not have opened in a decade.

We are the same age, Collins and me – he is just two weeks older than I. Sometimes to read him is to feel that he can see into my mind, maybe even my soul, but I know he speaks as much for others too.

This is from his collection, Questions About Angels, published in 1991. You will easily see why it brought today's little anecdotes to mind – and he says it so much more elegantly than I.

MEMENTO MORI
There is no need for me to keep a skull on my desk,
to stand with one foot up on the ruins of Rome,
or wear a locket with the sliver of a saint's bone.

It is enough to realize that every common object
in this sunny little room will outlive me -
the carpet, radio, bookstand and rocker.

Not one of these things will attend my burial,
not even this dented goosenecked lamp
with its steady benediction of light,

though I could put worse things in my mind
than the image of it waddling across the cemetery
like an old servant, dragging the tail of its cord,
the small circle of mourners parting to make room.

Comments

You are not alone Ronnie. Such a lovely poem.
I, too, like you, ponder all my "lovelies" and wonder where they will end up when I am gone. I've done some lovely handwork and I don't even know if anyone appreciates it any more.
It's all very sad.

I love when you post a thought experience that I think many of us share. I am just finishing Penelope Lively's "Dancing Fish and Ammonites", a memoir/set of reflections which concludes with a description of 6 items that will not have meaning to others once she is gone. Loved the book. Also Doris Grumbach's "Life in a Day" which starts with breakfast using a plate, a cup, etc. all of which are special to her but will not be once she is gone. The passage stuck in my mind when I read it 15 years ago - just checked and it was just as I remembered. So this feeling is shared by many and you express it so well. Thanks.

I find as I age I want to get rid of things, but that only makes me more aware of the things I want to keep.

Oh I LOVE that quirky poem! What a great image.

Hmmmm. At the moment, I'm thinking my much loved pillow. It's a welcome sight every night as I wind down the day and look forward to snuggling my head onto this fluffy mass and wonder of what dreams may come.

It's received many emotions - crying into it, screaming or swearing onto it when sleep won't come, holding my head just right and gently as I enjoy good books, or do a crossword.

My nightly companion as I stretch myself from one realm to another and back again.

For the past couple of years, my husband I have been going to local estate sales, the numbers of which, as might be expected, have been rapidly increasing. I have had mixed responses to these sales. Sometimes they depress me enormously and I have to take some time to recover from the heavy feelings they evoke. But other times, they are wonderful. The things that I have brought home from them have been mostly small items that suggest the interests and loves of the person(s) who owned them first. Often these are books, but they also include ephemeral items, such as a sketch I took home with me from a sale last week. That sale was at a very unique house, which had been built by a young couple, both architects, in 1953, early in their careers as they began their family. It was on 6 acres of forested land, with a pond. The couple apparently had many interests that overlapped with several of mine, including native plants. Tacked up on a wall in one of the rooms of their house was a sketch, most likely from decades earlier, showing plans for native plant landscaping around the pond. This had no price tag, and when I asked the woman running the sale about it it, she took it down and gave it to me. This, along with a painting of bluebonnets and Texas terrain that reminded me of my own childhood home, and a typed up two page bio by the husband, who had died in 2004 at the age of 86, and who had grown up in Texas, also came home with me. This was how I learned that, after WWII, he and his young love had gone to college together and completed studies in architecture, which was a second degree for him, added to his first in electrical engineering. These two short pages of history were sweet, poignant, and very well written, leaving me feeling almost as though I had known these people. I learned from a neighbor of theirs that the wife had just passed away earlier this year, at the age of 100, and that she had been staying in the house by herself during the warm months of the year since her husband's death in 2004.

I have had a couple of similar experiences at sales that led me to research the homeowners and I find that they have come to occupy places in my thoughts almost as though they had been long-time friends. So, there are options other than things being hauled off to the dump. All the things you mention here, including that cast iron pan, could have other homes and be treasured by others just as they have been treasured by you. I have a cast iron frying pan that is likely more than 100 years old. It is my favorite pan and I use it several times a week. As long as my wrist strength holds out, I will continue to do so, and I hope someone else will take on that joy when I'm gone.

So, I think our things often can take on lives after ours are done, which is a comforting thought to me, and one that is also practical, as another form of recycling. A large terracotta pot from that sale last week now sits in my backyard and holds two gorgeous geraniums and a beautiful chartreuse

oops - that last comment should have said a chartreuse coleus.

Cathy - your post warmed my heart . I think our beloved objects do sometimes live happily on

Gin

My children and grandchildren are gradually receiving many of the items - embroidered pillowcases, flower pots, various dishes, and other things that
they treasure. I ask them if they want it, and if I no longer use it, it goes home with them. I also have been taking things I no longer care about to a consignment shop - so easy - they price it - and if they don't want it, it goes to a charity or back home with me (my choice). I try and take a box a week and there doesn't seem to be any bare spaces in my home yet. Its been a pleasure to pare down. My biggest task is to let go of the fabrics purchased to make quilts but I still belong to a quilt guild and we are using it for charity baby quilts, lap robes, etc. I find my interest wanes at times but a gathering of fellow quilters usually inspires me to get moving again.
Cast iron around here brings big money at auctions and the children still treasure it - for camping if they can't use it on their stove tops. I too still like to find treasures - as we age its fun to get new things and find other people who enjoy our old things. They all have a life of their own. I volunteer at a thrift shop and I particularly enjoy it when I take a bunch of donations in and they disappear the same day - that way I cannot change my mind. And the best thing is I never miss or even think about what I have donated. It's gone to a "good home where it will be loved with renewed interest". My aim is to keep the treasures moving --- I bring home lovely things, too, and if I have second thoughts, it goes back to the store next week. Many of our customers are the over 70's who are doing the same thing. Its called redecorating on the cheap.....

My home is filled with memories and momentos that no one will ever bond with as I do.
Whenever I traveled I tried to bring back a memory and now I am in trouble.

Take for example, my foot and a half tall glass "muse" from the island of Murano in Venice.
It came into our possession when we were accosted along the way by hustlers offering a boat ride to the island for free (haha), but as it was on my list to go there any way, why not--

My husband was in heaven as we tore through the water and saw the sights from a different angle , and so now, when I look at the statue, I smile and remember the look on his face.

Maybe I paid too much, maybe no one will know it is from Murano, maybe no one will care, maybe no one will love it the way I do. I feel sad for us both.

I went to an estate sale once where the old gentlemen who passed away had written notes and taped them to everything important to him. I bought his first pair of long pants dated in the 1800s. The note is still in the pocket along it another note from me.

The older I get the more I catch myself putting notes on things telling why such and such has meaning to me, and other times I laugh at myself for wanting to do that. If nothing else, my nieces and nephews will have fun disposing of my estate if I keep this up.

Oh my, I've started labeling things too! I've turned into my mother. There are things my grandkids think they want and I've put their names on those items. But I agree, much of what touches my heart is connected with people I know or knew and places I've been. It will probably mean nothing to anyone else. I have a copy of the film "Amelie," it was the first film I saw with my second husband and although the marriage ended badly I still get a good feeling when I see this very good film and touch those feelings of something new and happy beginning. No one will know. I also have a scrap of paper that my Dad wrote instructions for a new radio I gave him, it's the familiar hand-writing that gets to me.

Stuffed animals, ashes of my my favorite cat. Jars of sea glass, dozens of small turtles in wood, metal, and stone collected from my travels. A library now reduced to just my books about communicating with animals. Glass dishes in the shape of crab shells, specifically for baking Crab Imperial: a rich, expensive, dish I can no longer afford. No airs, no heirs. What will become of us odd objet d'arts?

I'd not thought of labeling things but I have seriously considered starting a sort of digital catalog with pictures of items and notes about why they are/were important to me. I think especially of pieces of jewelry that have special meaning (and/or dollar value that might not be apparent). When I'm gone I'm sure most of my things will fall by the wayside, with only a few items being claimed by those for whom they held some particular appeal. But I'd at least like those decisions to be informed by notes on value (sentimental or monetary), place of acquisition, etc. Done as I imagine, it could be a very big job. I really should get started on it one of these days ...

I have no children or any other family, and have many things in my home that mean a lot to me or bring back great memories. After having gone to many estate sales with a friend who loves them, I decided to add a paragraph to my will, and have informed my executor, that all my stuff will be picked up by an auction firm and sold by them. I do not want anyone going through my medicine cabinets, underwear drawers or kitchen pantry.

I also recently started going through closets and cabinets, and have been going to my local thrift store almost daily to drop off my boxes.

I just move from my home of thirty years and downsized my belongings by 75 percent. It was beyond difficult! This post and the Billy Collins poem made me think about what will soon enough the final downsizing. Wonderful post.

I too am downsizing, and designating various objects to members of my family. If they say they like it, it is theirs on the spot! My mother did this, and we are all grateful for the lack of fuss. My mother was fortunate—she had seven children who were very happy to have the things she valued to remember her by. I have two children, a grandson, and several nieces who may wish to end up with the things I own. But it's not about things, is it? It's mostly about love—and that goes for the love we had for the people around us while we lived our lives surrounded by the things we treasured. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Ronnie.

My children have made it clear that they do not want my things since my things are no longer in style. As if that had anything to do with the sentimentality of them. My son would like the photograph albums and, perhaps the home movies of me growing up. Other than that the rest of the stuff will go to my husband and will probably wind up in an estate sale or to the I.R.S. Heaven knows the Infernal Revenoorers have no sentimentality.

Guess I might as well start weeding out stuff now. There will be tears and a few smiles...

Am I able to post now? This is a test.

I had to turn my computer off to be able to test. A cleaner I have installed to get rid of my history, etc, always removes my name from this blog. Typing it in again does not work or closing and re-opening the blog does not help, nor does restarting my computer. I tried everything yesterday until I had to leave. I then shut down and that seems to have done the trick. I must find the setting to prevent this from happening again.

Yesterday I tried to post my comment about the memories attached to our stuff, but others have now pointed that out. I said that it isn't the objects that we treasure as much as the memories they evoke.

You can't pass down a memory even though you may tell your heirs the story behind the item that brings back a lovely memory for you. It can never be their memory.

I do hope that someone will treasure the afghans that I knitted and the hours I spent on some of the intricate patterns or the sweaters I knitted that are mostly unused now that I am in a warm climate. I may come back to haunt them if they give them to the Salvation Army.

Without some memory attached to it, a pillow, collectible or cast iron fry pan is just stuff.


There were very few items that I felt emotionally attached to when I was more or less forced to divest myself of most of my worldly tchotchkes. And even less, when I saw them sold for cash in a tag sale rather than get hauled off to the dump.
Maybe the need to hold on to stuff is a girl thing. I don't know.
However, I can tell you one thing. Getting rid of all that stuff is cathartic as heck.
Now, I live like a monk. Junk free.

At times I feel guilty when I browse through a store or a museum gift shop for not buying and contributing to somebody's livelihood. But as we all seem to realize there comes a time to stop collecting and start to dispose of our stuff.

I've taped index cards to the back of pictures to tell when, why and by whom they were purchased. And I am going to leave notes about other things.I don't have children but I hope my niece and nephew will find some things that will appeal to them and keep me in mind.

Our "stuff" is just our stuff. I can't imagine that it would mean much to anyone else or that our adult kids would want it. Exceptions might be a few of of our old photos, perhaps our gold wedding bands, electronics and our durable, contemporary king-sized headboard. I've placed a large note in front of my "Survivor's File" with contact info for local junk removal companies. Bet they could clear this place out in under 4 hours!

I'm working on downsizing our possessions and plan to donate as much useful stuff as I can before-the-fact. My husband and I hope to have our possessions pared down to the basics by the time we depart this world.

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