This week I have been sorting through some boxes in the basement, clearing out clutter and thinking about family possessions. We are constantly bombarded with magazine articles and television shows emphasizing our need to de-clutter our lives. I thought it would be fairly easily to get rid of all the stored items in our basement. It turned out to be an action filled with memories.
When my paternal grandparents were reaching the end of their lives, they began to give away items from their cupboards. Each time I visited, my grandmother offered me some glassware, some dishes, some decorative items. Anything valuable she sold to an antiques dealer, but there was still plenty of stuff to choose from. I reluctantly agreed to take some things because she wanted me to. Now that I am older and retired, I too think about my “stuff” and wonder what I should do with it.
I have large boxes filled with my father’s paintings. He was a great artist, but he didn’t sell many of his paintings. When my mom downsized, she gave me his paintings. I can’t bear to part with them, and I guess my daughters could choose some to keep, but really one each should be enough. My paternal grandmother used to crochet doilies and use them on end tables and coffee tables to keep down the dust. I inherited them, beautiful white doilies edged with colorful pansies. I love them, but I don’t use them and never will. I firmly believe my daughters won’t want them either. I remember the day I was visiting my grandmother and she was tatting. I had no idea what that was, and she was very eager to show me. She described the art of tatting to me, telling me she suspected not many women even knew how to do it, but she was hoping I would learn. I said I would even though I didn’t really want to. She died before she could teach me. When I was cleaning out the basement, I found a box of items she had given me, and there in the box was a set of pansy-edged doilies wrapped up in tissue paper.
In another box I found a set of hand-hooked rugs from my maternal grandmother. I remember a lot about the process of making them. I would go with my mother and grandmother to Cohoes where there was a factory warehouse of fabric pieces. In a cavernous room in the back were boxes of scraps my grandmother looked over carefully. She felt them, folded them, matched them for color, and purchased a supply for her rugs. The fabric scraps were sold by the pound, and she left with bags of fabric. Then she took them home to the room she lived in at our house and went to work. She sorted by color and began to braid the strips of fabric, fastening the ends with safety pins until she was ready to coil the braids into a circle to be used on the seats of chairs. When she had ten or twenty finished, she took them to a local gift shop at a country farm where they were sold. I have no use for the chair pads, but I can’t part with them, just like I can’t part with my father’s paintings, my paternal grandmother’s doilies, and my maternal grandmother’s chair pads.
I wonder what I will leave behind for my children. I have folders of unpublished stories and novels, poetry, and journals. My husband has boxes of books, a collection of comic books, stamp and coin collections, science fiction magazines and old newspapers. I have a very large collection of Boyd’s stuffed bears and resin figurines. At this stage of my life, I know my children won’t be interested in any of these things, so as I clean out our possessions, I feel sad that who we are is often so closely tied to what we have and what we do with our leisure time. After our death, where does that part of our lives go?
Legacy is defined as “something received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” One of my favorite books is entitled “Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History” by Linda Spence. In her book she wrote the following: “Legacy is about life. About the times we’ve lived in, the people and events that have shaped us, how and whom we’ve loved, what has stirred us, and how we’ve tried.” Even though I have boxes of things from my parents and grandparents, it’s not the things that are the legacy. It’s the stories and the memories, and I don’t need a box for those.