Fifty Years Of Belongings
Hello, Radio Readers. I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas, ruminating on aging, death and dying for our Fall 2018 series.
In her memoir, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast illustrates the things so many of us wrangle as our parents and elders die.
Many of us wrangle with the actual things accumulated over lifetimes. Chast describes the “heartbreaking job” of sorting through fifty years’ worth of her parents’ belongings, including a drawer of lids without containers, several old Schick razors, a pair of her own baby shoes, and a cheese-tainer she claims her parents had used since the 1960’s.
Chast also writes about things she kept—a bracelet, a book, a series of love letters exchanged between her parents during the 1930’s, She also kept her parents’ cremains, which she keeps in her clothes closet, because, she tells us, seeing the containers in which her parents are contained, reminds and consoles her.
I too have my share of memorabilia (though my parents’ requests to be buried we respected). Of my father’s things, I have the silver cup given to him in his infancy as a baptismal gift and hand tools used in his trade as a diesel mechanic. Of my mother’s things, I ‘ve kept the pins she wore on her nursing uniform and a photo of her striking a pose in the ball gown her mother made. From other relatives, I have a wealth of things I am unlikely to ever use – china, crystal, and a razor strop, just to name a few, but when I see them or hold them, I am reminded of whom I have come.
I also have a teddy bear and a hand-painted prayer on a little plate, both given to me when I was a child and stored for years by my mother in a closet. To which when these things were rediscovered, I could only ask the unanswerable: how, after 50 some years, do I now throw these things away? Doesn’t their sheer antiquity demand my care and attention?
That question, I have come to realize, is exactly why we have antique malls….or, as I have come to think of them, the Purgatories for Things We Don’t Know What to Do With. I actually love antique malls. I love trolling them. I rarely leave an antique mall before purchasing a wooden bowl, or a glass bowl. For some reason, I’m drawn to bowls. At least I can use them. But sometimes when I wander an antique mall, I’m awestruck, gob-smacked, by the sheer magnitude of things—most of them, I’m sure, at one time loved and cherished. There’s a kind of hopefulness, I think, in presenting these treasures as wares in an antique mall – surely, they will be found and cherished once again.
The more jaded among us might argue against my idealism. Chast writes that after she selected a few items from her parents’ apartment, she walked away, leaving all the rest for the building super to clear away. There’s a part of me that very much admires that about her.
For HPPR Radio Readers, I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas.