All will be yours

All will be yours when I’m gone. She used to make these bold statements − I never believed she wouldn’t always be around − whenever she bought the umpteenth kitschy knickknack to stuff into her china cabinet, or a fifth etched glass vase for the dining room hutch, or the tenth figurine to display in the living room. They will be worth something one day. Or maybe you’ll put them in your own home. This, she said, pointing to an exceptionally large sculpture of an eagle in full flight, talons at the ready, would be perfect on your coffee table. Was it just the other day when we spoke? It seems like it sometimes, but that’s not possible. She’s been dead for more than two years.

 As a child, I watched my mother’s fingers caress her newest object of affection, her eyes exploring, admiring, and contemplating possibilities as one might a new lover. I loved her playful smile. She seemed so content and satisfied when she found and bought something new. For me, these acquisitions were glittery, mysterious and full of promise. A promise of what, you might ask. I’m not sure. I know I wanted to hold them, take a closer look, but of course, I was never allowed to because I was (and continue to be) rather clumsy and careless. I suppose I saw the latest and the newest thing as providing some sort of renewal. Or perhaps it represented abundance and a permanence that comforted me at the time. I don’t know.

One day, the starry-eyed kid who once secretly fondled the etched glass vase and daydreamed about how it would look in her home, grew up to be a teenager and later an adult who hates clutter. I spring and fall clean sometimes more than twice a year simply to get rid of stuff.  Having too many things frightens me. Why the switch in attitude? Not really sure. I guess at some level I must think that if I get rid of something before it becomes too important to me, maybe it won’t hurt so much when I have to give it up. Or if I don’t have it in the first place, then I won’t miss it. All I know is that I refuse to get too attached.

I wonder often about this dogged refusal of mine, especially when I hear other people say they can’t get rid of something or can’t move out of a house they’ve lived in for years. I wish I knew why I am the way I am. Perhaps it’s as simple as not liking or wanting anything my parents acquired, just as I’m sure my children don’t want anything that we have. Maybe I just don’t like their things. Maybe it’s a matter of taste. But, I don’t really think so somehow. It’s more likely an issue I have with letting go and the need to do that first before it’s done to me. Eventually we will all need to let go. I’m just getting a head start.

When I visit my father, I notice he is surrounded by, and sometimes, I think drowning in, the possessions he and my mother acquired over their lives together. He dusts off each precious object weekly, cleans around it, but barely notices. It’s simply an item he picks up and puts down again. He doesn’t sit in his living room and admire it or enjoy it. In fact, when he does sit in there, it is to talk quietly to my mother, be close to her.

Sometimes in his cleaning frenzy, my father drops something and it shatters at his feet. He picks up every last piece (I wish it was this easy with a broken heart) and calls me, tells me he has something for my husband to fix. When we visit, my husband tries to glue whatever it is back together (yes, like humpty dumpty), because my father refuses to throw it out. A line of glue bubbles on the surface, the pieces are askew and not perfectly aligned and still my father puts whatever it is, a statuette or old-fashioned lamp, back in its place on the coffee table or in a cabinet because that’s the way my mother had things. He lives under the impression of permanence or tries to maintain that illusion. I can’t. I see these old pieces, the overstuffed house I grew up in and feel only sadness and loss. I know there was once joy and excitement as they acquired and built their lives and family together. I know this. And still I wonder would they have done anything differently if they knew or even suspected what would eventually happen. I don’t know. All I know is that I see their things as representing a time that will never be again. My father sees my mother. I wish I could too.


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