In the past, I’ve recounted the evolution of our things. It’s the tale of the American dream: big house, tons of stuff. And the American nightmare: big house, tons of stuff.
It came about much like the time a huge fluffy dog wandered into our yard in Colorado. I checked his tags, called the owner, and when no one answered, decided to drive him home. He was adorable and bounded into the car, tail thumping against the seat. We pulled into his driveway, and I opened the door to find Cujo. He growled and snapped and refused to leave.
Like a grandfather’s clock or a piano or a 20 pound statue of a pig playing a violin. Effortless to get in. Nigh impossible to get out.
I’ll recap: We downsized our home in Colorado into a storage unit. Then we downsized our storage unit into a U-haul and carted it to our son’s row home in Philadelphia. He was young and single and furniture-less. A hutch here. A grandfather’s clock there. A small pile of boxes in the basement. You hardly noticed.
Then one day, a boy walks into a bar and meets a girl. A few years later, this…
And this …
The phone rings, “Mom, you gotta come get your stuff.”
Just like that.
We went to Philly, sorted, and purged—a garbage bag full of duplicate photos, my grandparents’ wedding license, my mother’s cradle roll certificates. We dropped an antique cherry table at Goodwill. We dragged nearly everything else out front with a sign: FREE.
Our plans evolved from:
We’ll sort through it and then move what remains to a storage unit in Philly to …
We’ll sort through it and move what remains in a U-haul to Virginia to …
We’ll give everything away except for what fits in the back of a borrowed Subaru Crosstrek.
The same car deemed too small to tote five weeks of roadtrip supplies was now big enough to hold the mementos of our life.
I suppose this is where I should say I cried, but I’d be lying. It was exhilarating.
Minus the saga of the grandfather’s clock. That would have made me cry, except that our son dealt with it.
The clock was: Born in Philadelphia in 1790. Bought by a young woman, my mother, who had a yearning for a really good grandfather’s clock. Beloved for twenty years until her death. Lugged by my father to my home in North Carolina.
He reminded me that I could never sell it. Consequently, I lugged it to Colorado, then to Philadelphia.
People oohed and ahhed over it. Told us “it’s worth good money.” But the grandfather’s clock market was in the tank. I told my son to do something, anything, before I arrived in Philly. (“I don’t care what you do, I just can’t witness it.”)
He posted it on Facebook. Free.
Hence, I kept my word to my dad and didn’t sell it. It moved to a new home that same day as a gift. The woman loved it, set it up, and sent us photos.
I had two goals for the clock: that it would remain in Philly. And that it would be loved.
I’m still learning to accept that you can’t use your things to: Stop time. Reverse time. Keep people alive. Bring people back. Guilt your kids. (Damnit)
The hardest reality that I’ve had to accept is that my love for these things is not transferable. Like warranties. Or plane tickets. Or a crush on Rick Steves.
I loved an item because I loved the person who owned it, and I valued our time together. When the person left, the thing became their stand-in—a container for my memories of them.
Yet that connection between person and thing, that memory, is mine alone. Sadly, these memories can’t be transferred. Fortunately, it turns out, they can’t be erased.