Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Things We Keep

Tim O’Brien, a favorite author, wrote a powerful collection of short stories about his tour of duty in Viet Nam. He titled it The Things They Carried. Every time I read it, those young men who walked daily beside death remind me that humans treasure the logical and illogical. The personal items these soldiers added to already heavy equipment loads reveal that humans make room for talismans connecting hearts and memory. This trait isn’t singular to warriors. Those packing moving boxes must choose what to purge or save. What we keep tells our story.

We’re downsizing for the second time in five years. I hope our daughters appreciate that we’ve given away, donated, or sold numerous earthly possessions, saving them hours of labor when it’s time to move us into long term care or the cemetery. That said, we still own more than when we married four decades ago. After another move or two like this, I’ll have unloaded anything I never use as well as items of only sentimental value. During this process, I’ve discovered freedom exists in jettisoning belongings I think I might need vs. those I actually utilize. While I’m not yet a minimalist, I’m getting there. Why keep four pretty platters when one does the job?

Unfortunately, some belongings defy logic. I’ll never have a newborn baby again. I don’t require 35-year-old infant dresses. Yet, several went in the save pile. The moment I opened that crumbling box, impossibly small clothing transported me to those first days of motherhood when everything was so scary and miraculous. Looking at tiny dresses that fit our daughters for one or two wearings, I swear I felt the weight of little girls nestled in the crook of my elbow. Who knew that gingham and lace was a time machine?

A similar experience occurred as I opened a chest full of afghans and baby quilts my grandma and mom knitted, crocheted, embroidered, or cross-stitched. Even without the sensation of knobby yarn or tidy stiches beneath fingertips, I visualized these beloved women sitting in their favorite chairs, watching Lawrence Welk or visiting as they created family heirlooms. A person can use only one coverlet at a time, so a cedar chest protected them for posterity. The future keeps getting shorter, yet I still haven’t used all these treasures.

Who moves worn, scratched pans? A crumbling handle on its last leg and with more dents than a golf ball reminds me of decades of homemade mashed potatoes and chicken n noodle dinners. Whipping up a fresh batch of spuds in that shabby container works better than consulting a medium to connect me to the grandma who taught me to cook. Decrepit as it is, that well-used cookware goes with me.

Tim O’Brien’s characters carried girlfriend’s panty hose, letters, photos, and other non-essentials into battle. Until I’ve moved a few more times, baby dresses, handmade blankets, and Depression-era cookware will make the trip as well. My heart’s not ready to let go.

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