For most of the past thirty years, Russ and I have shared an inside joke about cleaning out our garage. It started as a serious proposal, our pile of stuff was growing! With neither attic or basement, into the garage it went. As other accumulators know, this stockpile includes the not yet ready to give away things, the items we think we might want again and those we are simply too sentimental about to do much of anything with. We amass our own and many of us inherit from others. (Especially daughters who live closest to their parents.) Add to that bikes, kayaks, wind surfing gear, files, no longer used portacribs. Oh, and my geologist husband has those rocks. Then there are the objects that surreptitiously trickle into hidden corners each time Mom and Dad downsized. After a number of years, this now almost unsurmountable task did become a joke. As autumn wound down, Russ would tell me that this winter was the one to clean out the garage. Then we’d laugh. We knew better.
I am pleased to report major improvements in our home life now that this spouse of mine is no longer Mayor. Last year as I worked remotely, not only did he deal with the damage of last year’s ice storm (yes, I did help some) but he took our yard to a new level. Dad is smiling. Deeder, sure is a good thing you picked such a handy guy. Then I noticed, this guy began reading books! It has added a whole new dimension to our relationship as not only do I actually see him without all those meetings, but we discuss books. And now, drum roll, finally, this guy has taken on the garage. Those who know Russ understand how detail-oriented he is. He’s not one to simply straighten out a bit and put that stuff into new corners. Nope. I hear Dad again. Sure is good he is a handy guy. Way better than that stump puller you once dated.
Layer by layer, things are pulled out. Not just the Rose Medallion china and old portacrib, movie reels from way back, files and files, yes, rocks. (He pops his head outside the window of the dining room as I work, holding some weird remnant from the past.) Then there is that marble table. The Watch-out-for-the-marble-table of our childhood. No, our parents weren’t concerned about damaging the table, but rather in our rough housing, boisterous family, they wanted to avoid one more emergency room trip from Wilsonville to Good Sam.
The remarkable thing about the stuff we accumulate, are the stories they hold. The marble table, and all the marble counters in our 1964 Montgomery Way, Wilsonville home came from the Multnomah Athletic Club. I don’t know how, but the story goes that as the MAC took on a major remodel, huge marble slabs were available for the taking. I’m sure there is more to the story though none of us living know the details. Although I’m sentimental to the story, I was pleased to find a new owner to put the one remaining marble slab to good use.
The chairs and table were owned by my great, great, great grandmother Chloe Clark Willson. My mom had heard that they came around the horn, but we know that would have been nearly impossible: imagine them on a stagecoach? Instead we suspect they came out a bit later by train to Salem after William’s death and her East Coast visit early in the 1860s. My fingers are crossed that the Willamette Heritage Center agrees to take these for the space they currently honor Chloe in. Although we use the table, I suspect we’d be happier to know it to be safely preserved in this history loving spot.
My friend Caroline, like others I know, is also going through this down-sizing stage of life. We are reminded that stuff isn’t what matters most in this life we lead, and that it can be freeing to get rid of so much that we don’t need. She recently shared the Forbes article Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want. I went to it thinking, oh good, someone will instruct me how to proceed with all this stuff! And while some of it was helpful, perhaps I’m not ready to fully embrace it all. While I agree in part with No. 9 (Paper Ephemera): yes, paper things like old greeting cards have a lifespan, and I’ve become able to quite easily part with much of this. And yet, photos I struggle with. Early in the pandemic I began dutifully scanning photos. I felt as if I was accomplishing something. Until I acknowledged how many photos and albums rest in my home, cupboards full of them. (I imagine I could compete for a Guinness Book of World Records for this large number of intergenerational family albums.) My solution? Slowly going through some now and pitching a few. (Mom’s OSU days, others with images barely viewable.) I scan in bits and starts on an as needed basis. The massive, complete job, though, will have to wait until I retire. And yet, the article says nothing about all that other paper: Dad’s articles and writing, Mom’s writing, my journals. The kids’ school papers! Yes, I am slowly trimming this load, trickling a few into the recycling bin. But I’ll be honest: there’s a lot more trimming to do.
I do agree, however, with the parts about the the old stuff that really doesn’t matter to anyone anymore. Every once in awhile I ask our two daughters what they care about. For that reason I got rid of mostly silver-plated servers and such that my parents received as wedding gifts, rarely used once they graduated from the 1950s. I kept only a couple that are full silver. (But does that mean I have to buy silver polish?) I have kept three dish or tumbler collections, including the china that came from my mom’s side that I use on holidays; promising myself to use it more often. Then there is that set of Rose Medallion china (see: San Antonio rose medallion moments) that goes several generations back on Dad’s Gill side. I’m certain the paint must be leaded and I can’t imagine eating on it like we did on Sunday night’s when I was a kid. But I can’t yet get rid of the box, keeping it again in the garage but on a newly constructed shelf. Finally, there is the matched set of water goblets that also go back a few generations; I’ll split this set between Erin and Emily. (Yes, I asked first to make sure they are wanted.)
This is certainly representative of a key stage of life for some of us. Those of us privileged with possessions and the stability of a home. Hitting us along with those wrinkles and aching knees smack in mid-life. This time period where we are forced, whether we want to or not, to look backwards into our past, perhaps even our family’s past and evaluate what really matters; what to hold on to, what to pass on. As we remind ourselves to be in this moment while we have it.