Our Centennial City... Mementos and Memories

My family never moved around very much. We came to Lakewood from the family homestead in Pennsylvania in 1958, and we moved around Lakewood only once. People who move around a great deal are used to the sometimes sad but often all too necessary chore of de-cluttering their homes. That does not necessarily happen with people who put down deep roots. Adding to that (at least in our case), we had shared many good times, the remnants of which abound on the shelves and in the closets of our home.

Not that these items have any great monetary value, necessarily. Particularly in these times, what can anyone get for just about anything anymore? So no, my family's not exactly ready for a dumpster, a yard sale, or the tree lawn just yet. There's hopefully some time remaining for us to hold onto these objects and remember...just for a while longer.

Mom was one who always told me never to get sentimental about stuff. Never mind if this vase was Aunt Lizzy's or that banjo was Uncle Tom's. She always said that if the opportunity came along to sell stuff, get the money while we could. Yes, over the years, there were the garage sales and flea markets, and some stuff did indeed slither on down the road. Since she's passed away though, even though it's been nigh on seven years, it's been kind of a different story. They say when a person dies, it's healthy to let go. I'm not so sure about that. After all this time, there's a little plastic sign that still says "Betty's Kitchen" above our sink. Then, there's the engraved brass "I love Mom" sign sitting there in the window, and close by, the small white dove that she bought for the home that says on the side of its base, "I said a prayer for you today." On the wall nearby is the little brass diploma that Dad and I gave to her when I finished college called the P.B.A.G.T. Degree ("Putting Bob and Gary Through College" Degree).

How much would you pay me for any of this bric-a-brac that Mom hoped I would not get sentimental about? A clutter-cleaner would have a field day in our kitchen. Five minutes and the kitchen would surely be free of clutter. And then? Move it along, right? Get on with our lives, right? Take the $25 that we made at the sale and go buy some new curtains or something, right? Sorry, Dad and I just don't work that way.

To us, the past, present, and future are very much a continuum, quite unlike the trendy segmenting of their lives that so many people seem to love to do these days. Some people change furniture virtually every season. In contrast, I am writing this column on a small writing table that my grandparents started housekeeping with nearly a century ago, and it was probably quite old back then. It still even has its inkwell, although a modern computer presently sits atop it, along with my CB radio mike that has not been used since the '70's. Mom crocheted a handle cover for it, you see, so it's still around. $5 at a yard sale? Sorry, mine's not for sale. When I'm sick, first thing I grab is the afghan she made for me. Sell it for $10? Let some clutter-cleaner grab it to toss away? I think not.

Granted, we may never use that old cast iron apple peeler, or that pig snout ringer, but one never knows.
Don't get me wrong, however. When Mom passed away, her clothes went off to a great charity and there were many changes around here. Just not everything changed, that's all. What could be given to people was given away, and indeed, many things were. I've really tried not to get too attached to the "stuff" of life...and yet...letting go entirely? Look, I've been to college and I've taken Psychology. I know the drill there, and yet, no, closing a door is just not in my family's culture. That's just not what we do. My mother will always be a part of me, and I of her. I could not compartmentalize a section of my life by taking some garbage bag of mementos out to the tree lawn right now. Some people could, I suppose, but they're not me. What I do know is that Mom, at least to me, was as close to being a saint as anyone I've ever known, and I still like having some of her stuff around.

Then, there are Dad's toys. He still has 'em. In fact, we even wrote a column about them in a still-online past Lakewood Observer issue. For that matter, I still have a few of mine too. There are those miniature tanks that we used to build dioramas with, in the days when we played "Montgomery vs. Rommel." I think I have two or three of those left. How much should I charge for them? What about my little starfish "Starry"? In those wretched lonely hours of the evening, home from a sound thrashing of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse at school on account of my so-called "handicaps," I developed made-up friends like that starfish, and even an old oven-mitt hand puppet, so that I could have friends to talk with when there were none to be found. How much would you pay me for those items?

I lost my childhood electric train in my early teen years, when I discovered that it had never really been mine in the first place. That train, which had been set up under our tree virtually every Christmas since I'd been a baby, had been a long term "loan" by a relative until their grandchild was born. It was not even the really expensive kind either, but I'd thought that it had been mine. Nope. Giving that train back was the most difficult thing my parents had to teach me to do. Don't tell me about well-paid school teachers. We had no money for electric trains back then. That was for other kids. On a positive note, I found one like it at a flea market later in life, and in mint shape too. It followed me back home. How much would you pay me for that train? Don't wait too long, the sale is starting to heat up. On the other hand, never mind.

I've seen those TV shows, and I suspect you have too, where they'll be selling the contents of a home, or of a storage shed, and we look on at the intimate possessions of people who have either passed away or have lost their ability to pay the bills of life. We marvel at the potential "valuables" found, and the potential profits to be made by the purchasers, but at the same time I can't help but wonder whether the most truly precious items in those clean-outs were what was simply stuffed away into plastic garbage bags and hauled out to the dumpster? Cards? Letters maybe? Or perhaps even a small white dove with the inscription: "I said a prayer for you today"...

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Volume 7, Issue 17, Posted 8:32 AM, 08.24.2011