Why do I keep that old thing? Why do I use a tablecloth that is falling to pieces, faded, and stained with years of picnics, breakfasts, and dinners? It has served the family well, for generations, but isn't it time to get rid of it? Probably.
Responsibility for family documents is a heavy burden. There is so much. So many receipts, records of transactions, legal documents that won't be denied a place in history. But what really matters?
I have been shifting living space for eight years to accommodate my Dad's paper trail. I've sorted through it countless times, trying to decipher what is necessary to keep. But why? He's dead. My mother is dead. His second wife is dead, as is her daughter and anyone who wants any of the documents that validated her life.
I came across a letter I wrote when I was about twelve. My mother was in the hospital, and I was missing her.My dad wrote a note to my junior high explaining that I had to leave school early every day for two weeks (? I think it was that long) because I was needed at home. I had a brother who was just a toddler. I can't remember who cared for him while I was in school in the mornings, but it was my job to come home and help in the afternoons. I don't remember how I got home, either, because my school was a bus ride away. But I was happy to help.
I lived for a long time with someone who was beautiful, winsome, intelligent, persuasive, and mostly dysfunctional. Because I was her child and I loved her with the pure passion a child has for its mother, I wanted to be like her. I thought her moods should be my moods, her pain my pain.
Mending and ironing are simple tasks. Tedious, but in some cases rewarding. I spent today doing both. It seemed like my world, and the world in general, had become so muddled and torn that doing something tactile, something I could control, would make a difference, at least to me. And maybe a difference to the keeping of this home, this house, this place where we live and breathe, and create a safe and somewhat serene place for family and friends.
My grandmother Ruth was born in 1892 and married her first husband Norman, my grandfather, around 1916. My father Albert was born in 1918. They lived with Ruth’s mother Mary Ann in New Jersey, a little place called Mount Olive, on a chicken farm.
My grandmother told me that my grandfather was so untrained in practical skills that she had to show him how to use a hammer. He ultimately turned out to be a very good carpenter and then a draftsman/architect. But she liked to take credit for teaching him how to hold a hammer. Who knows? Truth or fiction?
In 1957 I was fifteen. Eisenhower, a member of the Lost Generation, was President. He had recently agreed to defend Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan against invasion. Nixon, a member of the Greatest Generation, was his Vice President. The Civil Rights movement was just beginning. Newspaper headlines revealed there was a Mad Bomber on the loose and the Ku Klux Klan was making big trouble, We were in the midst of the Cold War with daily reminders of the nuclear bomb threat. We practiced drop drills. People were building bomb shelters.
It is that time of year when there are big changes coming. Some things are replanting themselves without much fanfare. Some are spectacular -- and they may be where you least expect to find them.
Under the best of conditions we grow straight and true, perfect images of what we were intended to be. Or are those images for us? Sometimes life throws us curves, or obstacles. Sometimes we have to bend or we will break. Sometimes we have to hide to survive. Life will do what it must, and mostly if we let it, we can trust that in the end we will be enough. We may not be what we think is our perfect image, or even anyone's image, but we survive. Being reminded of that by a carrot is unusual, I suppose, but also very ordinary.