Photo: Groom strums a plaintive ballad on a balalaika my mom purchased in Russia in 1961; the ditty is entitled "I've Been Hauling Other People's Boxes in 103 Degree Heat for Days, and It Sucks"
"Hummels for Sale"
And I when I type crap, I mean stuff and stuff and puffin'-more-stuff--a veritable excess of possessions. Buying, arranging, and eventually shedding stuff, it would seem, is my genetic legacy; indeed, I have the innate tendency to hoard and collect roaring through my veins.
Actually, I've realized in the last two weeks that my hoarding inclinations are pale and watered-down compared to those of my sister and mother--both of whom we helped move/unpack during our big road trip around The West.
There are upsides to helping someone else deal with crap; I mean, there is no emotional attachment to the items, so it's easy to declare, "You really don't need those fake silk flowers. Like, REALLY don't. Ain't no one who do. Let me just trot them to the Goodwill bin for you, all righty? And that copy of Macbeth you had to read your freshman year of college, in 1953? Yea, we can get that damn spot out, too. To the bin with it all!"
The downsides, of course, are readily apparent: you're spending your hours going through someone else's accumulations, through dozens and dozens of boxes that represent the physical manifestation of someone else's needs and desires. Invariably, these hours also tick away during a heat wave and/or when your young children just want to be at the pool instead of being good sports about understanding that their auntie or grandma has a hoarding pathology that requires she be talked gently and at length out of owning 15 wooden spoons, when, in fact, she doesn't cook at all and has absolutely no stew to stir.
In sum, while it's always a pleasure to spend time with loved ones, Groom and I are plain tapped out right now when it comes to handling other people's crap. Seeing what my sister and mother, individually, were going through, in terms of panic attacks and tears and sheer overwhelmage, well, it was an object lesson for me, and I have now returned to Minnesota with a new resolved to de-stuff-ify, inasmuch as I can while basking in the full sunshine of the Little Kid Years, a time of Transformers and baby dolls and puzzles and Candyland under every footstep.
Here, now, on my honor, I resolve to engage actively in a war against my innate genetic programming. I promise to be a tiny bit less of a hoarder. No, reawwy. I pwomise.
And I've already taken steps in that direction. Two days ago, Groom and I returned from our Western trip followed by a U-Haul of family heirloom furniture and even a few knicknacks, which I am generally against on principle (*sigh*...but it was Baccarat crystal purchased almost fifty years ago in France, and it gives good hand when I pick it up and let it nestle in my palm, so what could I do? Say no?). We're trying to consider the new influx of crap into our house as more of an upgrade than an invasion. And to our credit, we no sooner had carried the new things into the house than we excreted an admirable amount of old junk out the back door--good-bye, old box springs in the basement; arrivederci, stack of rusty trunks; au revoir, old, stained garage sale chairs; sayonara, college textbooks.
Yup, the household has undergone a physical and karmic balancing in the last 36 hours, since we got home. I have the smelly armpits to prove it. Balancing is not delicate work.
And at this moment of half-past-midnight, when I'm not caught up in carrying boxes or muttering about materialism and the sheer mental toll exacted by *things*, I can afford a little sentimentality. I think about the furniture that we just drove across North Dakota from Montana, and I realize it's come home, in its way. My mother, her father, her grandparents, all of them spent major chunks of their lives in southern Minnesota, and after the older generations passed away, my mom inherited some fine pieces of furniture, moving them then to Montana, where she lived after marrying.
As the seasons continue to turn, my mom now finds herself living in a small seniors apartment in California, no longer craving the comfort of things. And so it has fallen to us, her children, to inherit the table our great-grandfather read at, the china cabinet dusted by our grandmother, the claw-foot table that held a Christmas cactus in the 1880's, a splitting from which I still water every week. In coming back to Minnesota, the furniture has completed a loop of generations and locales and eras. Even though it's just stuff, I feel something for it and for the sense of continuity and connectedness it gives me to people I never knew.
Ultimately, I have the opportunity to know them through their possessions and through the awareness that I am touching what they touched, that my children are running their hands along the surfaces that Minerva and Orange Scott touched 120 years ago, that Julian and Mildred touched 70 years ago, that Maxine and Donald touched 35 years ago.
So we hauled
the pastor's chair, and
the library table, and
the music bureau, and
the claw-foot table, and
the humpback chest, cursing the effort all the way. But now that they're settled in and have had their midnight snack, I find myself looking upon them with fondness and appreciation.
Should these things ever leave my life, that's okay. On a certain level, it would be a relief. They're just things, and, moreover, I can't be too burdened by the weight of responsibility for other people's memories.
On the other hand, they come from My People, my posse, my ancestral homies, and this physical reminder of who they were is powerful and affirming.
But if I ever try to convince you that fake silk flowers are a necessary part of my decorating, you are hereby invited to grab me by the shouders and administer a firm shake. Better yet, grab one of my 15 wooden spoons and whack me silly.