Monday, January 19, 2015

Sibling Assignment #152: Mom's Gratitude in Salt Shakers, Souvenirs, Gifts, Angels, Memories, and Stories

Carol served up this assignment for her, Christy, and me to write about.  Christy wrote about Mom's work ethic, here, and Carol focused on Mom's humor, here.

Carol's assignment:
Write about something that you realized about Mom when you were an adult, that didn't occur to you when you were a child growing up.
When I was a child growing up, I had no way of knowing how much material things mean to Mom.

Now, as an adult, I walk into Mom's house and I'm almost dizzied by all the objects that greet me: angels, candles, memorabilia, pictures framed on the wall, and a couch, love seat, two sitting chairs, three end tables, and an entertainment center packed into a tiny living room.  The east kitchen wall is covered with artifacts:  spoons from places all over the world as well as items that were once her mother's, her mother-in-law's, her Aunt May's, things Mom herself once used, as well as things like oversized wooden salad utensils, signs, Expo '74 souvenirs, a shelf with McCormick seasoning containers as well as old salt and pepper shakers; there's a metal hot water heater, countless mugs on a rack -- and the west wall is dominated by antique utensils accompanied by a spice cupboard, cheese grater, measuring utensils and a host of other things that Mom uses.  The kitchen also features a buffet with sets of dishes and drawers stuffed with all kinds of things ranging from candy to coupons. Mom keeps houseplants everywhere: on top of the refrigerator, on top of the buffet, on the end tables, on furniture pieces in the TV room, above the bathtub, on a round table in her bedroom, and on the entertainment center.

And there's more: closets upstairs and downstairs full of slacks, blouses, sweaters, and other apparel. In fact, there's more material items in the basement than I care to write about.

What's remarkable to me, and I never understood this as a child, is that Mom's attachment to stuff is also an attachment to the history of this stuff.

Mom has a mental catalog of where nearly every one of the items in her house came from.  She knows what things were wedding gifts back in 1952 and who they came from, what came from Bob and Ronnie, what things came from women she taught with, what things she brought to Kellogg after the deaths of both my grandmothers, what things came from her sister and my cousins, and what things came from one of us kids.  I'm embarrassed sometimes.  Mom tells me about things I gave her and I have no remembrance of it and then she can not only tell me that it came from me and what wife I was married to, but she also know where we celebrated that Christmas that year or which summer she received it.

It's the same way with houseplants and plates on the walls and old lamps.

It's remarkable.

In addition to knowing where these things came from, Mom can recall the memories and the stories attached to them.  I marvel at how Mom remembers the smallest details about things that happened that are related in one way or another to all these items found in all three stories of the house.

Every once in a while, Mom decides to get rid of some stuff and I've filled her car trunk with magazines and recycled them and taken items to a couple of charities that take in used stuff.

But, unlike me (and the Deke), who gave away at least 70% of our belongings when we moved from Eugene to Greenbelt, and felt great relief in unloading what we gave away, Mom is not relieved by getting rid of things and it's very hard for her to do.

If you are still reading this and feel moved to offer psychological analysis of my mom or if you feel compelled to use the "h" word (hoarder), please don't.

And please, you don't need to tell or remind me that my sisters and I will one day have to deal with all of Mom's belongings.

We know it.

As much as I'd like to impose my will on Mom and persuade her to take care of these things now, it's too demanding on her and I've decided not to argue with her or try to control her.

Mom knows what I think -- get rid of as much as you can -- and I don't need to repeat myself and she doesn't need to hear me repeat it.

So, this is my response to Carol's assignment: it never occurred to me, when I was a child growing up, that material things meant so much to Mom and that these things provided the many, many signposts in all the rooms of her house by which she remembers the many people she loves and the countless stories she carries in her mind and her heart.


Unknown said...

This is very similar to my grandmother. She has objects everywhere, and they all have a place of display. I wonder if it was because she grew up very poor, and nice possessions are to be displayed. Maybe it is easier for us to let go because we have so much?

Lura said...

It's genetic. It has nothing to do with rich or poor. Some day when you have about 2 hours to kill I'll fill you in on what we went through with your Aunt Lila's "stuff".

raymond pert said...

Shane: When Mom talks about herself and her possessions, she talks about them the way you put it. I take her word for it.

Lura: I don't doubt the genetic part of it...and I have heard the Reader's Digest condensed version of what you went through, but not the two hour version. Maybe one day that'll happen!

Gathering Around the Table said...

One of your best sibling assignments. You got to the heart of what Mom's house is all about, even after you were struck with a large wooden salad spoon and had to renail and hang up the copper Christmas tree cookie cutter. Where is that hard hat again?