Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Things we Keep


I helped my friend Deborah move last week. We quickly transitioned from the stage of lovingly holding treasures and thinking about the memories they evoked, to wanting to torch the whole house, crushed by the sheer volume of accumulated stuff.

I felt those same sensations when my family moved two years ago. On the final exhausted, emotional morning, my carport was full of piles that hadn't made the first, second, or third purges, but simply could NOT come to the new house with us in the end.

Yet today, I still have too much stuff.

Both my friend's life of late and mine are examples of what we already knew-- the words painted on the wall at my old house-- "The best things in life aren't things." 

We get it.

Yet still, we do have THINGS, which is never more clear than when we must move them from one place to another.

I wanted to help Deborah more than I did, because choosing what to keep and what to donate is extremely personal. The humblest item could be full of meaning, while the most expensive isn't.

For example, one of my family's treasures is a big brown plastic mixing bowl with a handle and a spout.  It used to have a buddy, a slightly smaller orange counterpart, until Shadow chewed it up a few years ago.

These bowls have always reminded me of my childhood, a time when I felt nurtured and safe. I remember my dad sitting in his brown and orange rocking chair in his pj's, chowing down on multiple scoops of ice cream from the orange bowl, while wielding an enormous spoon.

That orange bowl took me right back to the 70's. To unsupervised kids making ice cream floats in tall glasses, always adding extra Coke as we drank them down. To roaming the neighborhood. To four square in the driveway and kick ball in the street. To bikes with banana seats, jaunts to 7-11, and the hot walk to the pool in bare feet. To figuring out how to navigate the culture of growing up.

The big brown bowl reminds me of popcorn, and watching movies with my mom and a string of friends and boyfriends on our plaid couch in the early 80's. To a nascent social life, still in the security of my home. To sleepovers, siblings, first kisses, and Saturday Night Live.

Today, when Margaret makes popcorn for one of our Survivor marathons, she always reaches for the brown bowl. She knows it's impossible to pop every kernel, that the good pieces always run out too soon, and that even though we pass the bowl back and forth between three people now, not four, it represents both her past and her present. I have a feeling that as long as the dogs never get a hold of the bowl, it will end up in her home when she is an adult.

To most eyes, the bowl is insignificant and even ugly. It does not give me the same thrill of promise and orderliness and beauty I get when I browse the matching housewares in a Target aisle.

But to my eyes, the big brown bowl means family.

What is something that you keep that would not mean anything to outside eyes?



21 comments:

Brandi said...

I miss my mother's plastic tupperware measuring bowl. The big one with a handle that you could use the electric mixer in. It makes me think of pancakes and Saturday morning cartoons.
I also have some liquor decanters that have been displayed in every home in which I have ever lived. I usually fill them with water and food coloring, just like my mama did. They mean home to me.
If I won a kabillion dollars in the lottery, those glass decanters would be one of the few things I would keep and/or move to my new mansion.

jazzblc said...

I just had a flood of memories come back when I saw the picture of the brown bowl. We had that bowl growing up and it was the go-to popcorn bowl and the brownie batter bowl. It is amazing what memories are wrapped up in the most mundane items.

Jessica said...

Most of my stuff like this is kitchen items, too. I have my mom's old tupperware measuring cups. I think she loaned them to me when I was in an apartment one summer between years of college, but I never gave them back. They remind me of starting to cook for 4-H projects and my sisters and I home alone in the summer while my parents were at work.

Janice Trinh said...

I wish I could say that I have things like these. But I don't. Especially since I came from the Philippines. But we moved when I was young and I did not care for such things then and was not really the one in charge of deciding what to bring over. At best, my "memory things" come in the form of photographs.

Neighbors Foundation said...

We have two of the same bowls but in white. One came from my house and one from Jeff's. Thus we cannot part with either. xxoo

LostRoses said...

Your bowl was my bowl too, only in orange! Gone now. 40-year-old daughter just asked if I still have the Kool-Aid man plastic pitcher from her childhood. Yes I do!

Susie - Recovering Church Lady said...

Yes, I realized this in our move at this time last year. I noticed that some things become treasures just because they have survived so many years. Sometimes they don't even have poetic memories attached, other than daily life in our family. That is enough I guess. That can create a treasure.

Anonymous said...

Kitchen items...here too. Interesting question for today, my aunt's birthday. She died when she was 39, inflammatory breast cancer...I hate those words! Today she would have been 55 years old...that's so young! She had 4 kids, 2 girls and 2 boys, just like me. When I turned 40 and out lived her, I thought I would just stop breathing, but here I am...still living. Anyway, I got a watermelon potholder and mitt from her husband and kids at my wedding shower the year after she died. They were hers, not new, but special to me! Awesome gift from her family to me as I started my own family. I have them 15 years later and will never get rid of them. Flood of memories, yes! Thanks for your stories and your honesty! I love how love live on!

AndreaW831 said...

Mine is a yellow Bauer bowl used forever and a day to make pancakes at our cabin. It's my go-to when we are there and I don't remember a time without it.

I am currently reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, and doing a major purge of our home, getting rid of everything that doesn't spark JOY. Many of the things I've hung onto are nothing special, not expensive, but things that truly take me back and evoke pure happiness. The rest is JUNK and I've tried to get rid of it. :)

rebeckah@mydwellingplace said...

My grandmother was an amazing baker. After I got married, my dad would call me up when he had stopped to see her with one of my favorite statements ever uttered from anyone on this earth. "I've got ginger gems". (A gingerbread cupcake filled with marmalade whipped cream). After she passed away and we were cleaning out the house, I spied the most ugly pink (with gold flecks) melamine plates in the trash pile. The plates that goodies were shared on. I grabbed them and use them for my dad when I call to say "I've got ginger gems".

One crazed mommy said...

I have a couple pieces of furniture that were passed down to me from my parent - they were always in my home growing up. One was in my parents bedroom, and it now is in our den - it was meant to be a towel storage for the bathroom, but it now sits in our den and holds our ever growing movie collection, and some odds and ends in the top drawer...but it's a part of home. The other was also an old wooden hamper/night stand with a single drawer over the hamper. When my daughter was born, and we moved into our new house, my parents painted it a pretty shade of green - her theme was lady bugs, so they even found a ladybug knob for the hamper. It still sits in her room as her night stand, and the hamper holds her old Halloween and dress up clothes. Was the perfect storage for them - it never really was used as a hamper (in my parents home, nor in ours).

Stacy O'Neill said...

Oh how I just love your brown bowl! Before I even read your post and just saw the bowl I immediately knew it had meaning!
Mine is a cereal Tupperware container with the pea green lid that my mother still has in her pantry...still with the 8 year olds inscription of "Oats...for in the morning" by me. Ok, so now I'm crying.
When I visit "home" in Minnesota, I always need to look for that container. Oh, sweet memories.
Just love you Anna! Even though we've never met.
God Bless you, your family and that brown bowl. :)

Stacy O'Neill said...

What a beautiful story!!

cousin Cindy said...

I have an old metal baking pan with handles that was my grandmothers. I remember Blackberry bread (this was like a cake) and Chicken Pot Pie being baked in this pan. I love it and use it all the time.

Kir said...

Right now, in the middle of this summer, I felt my eyes go moist reading this. My mom emptying her home to fill another thousands of miles from me and filling my own cabinets with bowls, platters and other treasures that say "childhood" and "home" to me more than doors and windows.

I am so glad you have that brown bowl to remind and warm you. To give you home and childhood new meaning right when you need it. XO

Geri French Watson said...

Mine is a wooden mallet made for me by my nephew when he was in the 4th grade (he's now 36). It's in my utensil bin and I wouldn't trade it for anything...

Lisa Ancona-Roach said...

I'm still thinking about what I have that outside eyes wouldn't see as a treasure...foggy morning brain. But...I so loved your recollections--so many of them are mine, too. Wow. It made me smile. Thanks.

lizzied said...

I have an airline blanket that was my dad's. He was traveling and thought the blanket was really nice (very soft and warm but thin), and asked the flight attendant if there was a way for him to buy one, and she said that he should keep it. He always had it on him while he was sitting in his chair in the play room, watching tv. As he got older and more ill, he used it more and more as he spent more time in that chair. It's my blanket especially for when I'm not feeling well, and now when the boys aren't feeling well I loan it to them.

Anonymous said...

sounds like you had that beautiful warm sparkly childhood that most people dream of -- I know there's pain in every childhood, of course, but it sounds like you felt safe and comforted as a general rule. sounds like you felt you had a certain measure of control over your own life -- not as much as an adult would -- but appropriate to the particular age. these are precious gifts. the seed of mental health. and then when we grow up and have to give up that feeling of safety and control (unwillingly! but universally) you still have that mental health to carry you through. what a lucky girl. i feel that even more important than these gifts however (and obviously related to them) was the ability gifted to you to be connected to others, to have a wide circle of acquaintances, friends, best friends, mentors, teachers, students, counselors, etc. not everyone has this ability. not by ANY MEANS. yet that's really all we have, right? each other. in truth, there's nothing else but each other. godspeed, anna. e.

The Queen said...

I have a pink fanny pac full of pebbles. You can have anything else, but no one will ever take the fanny pac of pebbles. My child knows why I move it from home to home.. why it's the most precious thing I pac first, and unpac first in the new home. The Pink Fanny Pac, will be handed down through the generations. No one will dare throw away the pink fanny pac of pebbles.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

This post means a lot to me and I love your treasured bowl. We moved almost nine years ago and I got rid of half of my things. Now I have just as much again, way more than I need. We will move in a few years and I would love to start working on clearing out things but I'm just not motivated. I find it hard to get rid of things.