A little over two years ago, my MeMaw passed away. She was the grandmother that seemed like she should go last – full of life and spunk until the very end. She didn’t suffer for long, just suddenly took a turn for the worse and peacefully left this world. My DoDad lived with as best an outlook on life as he could when the love of his life departed, but he left this earth shortly after her this January to reunite with his bride.
Their home was my absolute dream home from the earliest time I can remember, a 1912-built Grand Old Lady in Small Town, America. They actually lived on Main Street in a one-stoplight town and meticulously kept and maintained her beauty as best they could, inside and out.
Sixty years of life and possessions were nestled into every nook and cranny in perfect order, nothing ever out of place. It was full, but I didn’t get that feeling that hits me so often when I enter an overcrowded space – like I can’t breathe and need to see the sky. Both master gardeners, the Yard of the Week prize frequently fell to their possession. Even after Memaw’s passing and DoDad’s resignation to a wheelchair, “they” claimed the coveted award, together.
How do you separate a life and its impact from every earthly possession? Death claims that dubious award. It is surreal and impossible to comprehend when you gaze upon every thing they ever held dear, every item they used and possessed to live their lives.
MeMaw’s father, my Great-Grandaddy Hupp, ran the roller mill in town. She told me about her childhood during the Great Depression when men would come from all over to grind their grains. They would have nothing to eat and no place to stay. Great-Grandaddy kept cans of beans that he would share with the sojourners who would use the tags from the bags of flour as their spoons to scoop their humble meal from the hospitable stranger.
Her life spanned almost 90 years. From nothing to everything. And now, everything is left. And the task at hand is for those who follow to “process” the material remains of their lives.
At first, I viewed this as mostly negative. As I learn more about the minimalist movement and what appeals to me about it, I initially see stuff, a burden left for those who come behind, and in many ways it is. Countless hours have been spent by their children, my mom and her brother and sister, emptying closets and drawers, deciding who, if anyone, will take everything from grand furniture to tiny treasures and trinkets they once held dear. Along with living their own lives and facing their own challenges, they have invested precious hours and energy into it. And yes, there is too much there. Did they need a closet full of silver, multiple jewelry boxes full of jewelry, many sets of dishes, enough Christmas ornaments to cover two beds? No, there’s no need for that, but admittedly, I had laid eyes on so much of it before as my MeMaw had pulled it out, used, and enjoyed most of it over the years. She always knew what she had and was energized to pull it out each season and give her home a fresh, new feel.
It dawned on me as I spent a day with my parents, aunt, and uncle, that this stuff has an upside too. We had been brought together again to remember and reminisce. We touched and held and processed, both physically and emotionally. There was the old tin pan in which she always baked her famous chocolate cake, a treat no holiday would have been complete without, and the stuffed bear that sang and danced to the fishing song (DoDad was an avid fisherman in his younger years). There’s no monetary value in these, but there are memories and joy.
How do I balance my own view of stuff in light of so many remains that now need a new home? I’ve found two things to be especially helpful to keep in mind as I evaluate the answer to this question.
1) I realize my memories of my grandparents are not in the items, they are in me. It is OK to let them go. Letting go of stuff is not letting go of them.
2) I choose to keep what I will use, love, and enjoy, and it’s not based on monetary value. I choose not to get caught up in what something is “worth.” I focus on what it is worth to me. Memories and joy are forever treasures.
Since we have been unloading cars full of stuff from our own home at our local thrift store, it doesn’t make sense to fill our home back up, but here are a few of my favorite items I chose to bring home.
The mugs: These were the first items I knew I wanted. I remember drinking coffee from them every time I went to visit MeMaw. It makes me tear up even now to remember. She was not a coffee drinker, and inevitably she never had coffee or the fixings in her cupboard. Every visit, I would don my walking shoes and head down the Main Street sidewalk to pick up that crucial caffeinated comfort.
The ceramic cow: DoDad was a cattle farmer, and for as long as I can remember, this piece was hanging in her kitchen holding a towel on his horns.
The picnic basket and quilt: Their back yard was border-to-border vegetable garden when I was growing up, but I would drag this blanket and basket out under one tree in the far back to picnic and sit for hours pouring over my uncle’s old Archie comic books, feeling drowsy and almost-nappy in the warm summer sun. I remain a lover of all things picnic and sunshine.
Though the quilt is already beginning to unravel, and I know someday the mugs may chip, for now these special possessions will be a touchable reminder of the love and memories that are forever in me.
Have you been through a similar experience? How did you decide what to keep?
Hollie Gilman is a freelance writer who has spent the last 21 years momming, homeschooling her 3 almost-grown-and-flown children, and working with her husband of 24 years. She is a lifelong passionate learner in all things Faith, Health, and Leadership. Right now she is loving her new life in the country (being a pretend farmer) just outside her hometown of Richmond, VA. Her blog is where she spills her guts on the things of the heart we all share: faith, life, love, family, and anything else that tumbles through her mind.