Wednesday, October 12, 2022

How Long?

 Does this happen to anybody else? Up in my attic, I've got two large totes of pictures that my parents took. Most of them don't have people in them but if they do, I don't know who they are. The vast majority are pictures that they took while on vacation, traveling out west. I don't know where they were taken, or what they are of. After the death of my mother, my sister and I took the pictures and divided them up between the kids and grandkids, giving them all the pictures of themselves as they grew up. We gave them each a Christmas ornament from my parents' Christmas tree, and my sister put together pictures of our family history and ancestors and put it on a disc for everyone so that they had their family history. We put them in Christmas tins and presented them as Christmas gifts. 

But... after all was said and done, there were still two large totes of pictures of God knows who or what. I cannot quite bring myself to throw them away. They are happy days in my parents lives, so they sit in a corner of my attic.

We had a chance to go through my parents house after my mother died. Due to family tensions, it was just my sister and I alone. It was a special day for the two of us, moving from room to room, reminiscing.  We had already been told that it was our only chance and that once we were done, that was it. We knew when we walked out the door, we would never walk in it again.

It is funny the things that I found myself unable to leave behind. I have the round cake pans that my mother baked her Easter bunny cake in. I have the stained glass blue jay I got my dad for a birthday. I found it in the bottom of a closet. The old typewriter that was my mother's graduation gift in 1956. I remembered being a small child and tapping out my ABCs on it.The old and chipped glass FireKing bowl she used to raise her bread in. (I use it still). The cuckoo clock. A musical figurine that meant a great deal to me. Their diplomas and a year book. Things like that, I wanted and I'm not sorry that I did. Those are sensible things. 

But there are other things. Old quilts, tatters, really, put together by my great-great grandmother. They are not artistic. Purely functional, heavy quilts made out of old denim and old flannel shirts. They have been in a cedar chest for years now. I know that I will never use them. They are not worth having repaired, but I cannot bring myself to discard them, not yet. 

I've got a rocking horse that my uncle made for us when we were small children. He's seen better days. He needs to be taken apart and put back together. My sister didn't want him. Either did I, not really, but when I saw him sitting outside in her yard, I couldn't not take him. I remembered rocking on him in my bedroom 60+ years ago. He needs a new tail. He needs new ears (his old ones were made out of pinched black rubber from an inner tube.) 

My sister suggested giving him to my grandaughters, but I know for a fact that shabby thing would not be welcome in their house. So he sits in the corner of my livingroom. 

There's the old high chair upstairs. I don't want that either, but there it sits. 

So yes, there are those things that I saved that I love. There are those things that I feel nostalgic about. But there are also things that I have no interest in at all, but have found myself the keeper of them, for reasons that I don't really understand. 

I keep thinking that the time will come when it is time to let these things go, but that time hasn't come yet. My mother died 11 years ago. My father died 10 years before that. 

It puzzles me though, that I have things that I cannot quite let go, even though I do not want them. Why is that?


43 comments:

  1. When you're ready, you can decide what to do with them. You're holding on to meaningful memories in the past which we all want to do. When my husband died nearly 10 years ago, I got rid of his tools and his vehicles quickly and many of his clothes. I still have his tee-shirt that says, "Do I look like a people person?" and his sweatshirt that says, "If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?" I kept several of his work sweatshirts too. And even his chemo gear which I really, really need to get rid of. I think holding on to his stuff keeps reminding me that he existed and that we had a life together and many decades of memories, even the painful ones.

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    1. I guess that I've never been the type to sort through things quickly. That was the problem. We had just one day. There was a lot of anger about being allowed in the house. There was even an uncle assigned to watch us. It wasn't comfortable and decisions were made in haste.

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  2. It sounds like some real treasures. When my dad passed in 2000, my mom was so anxious to clean out his "man-shed" behind the house, along with the basement of stuff from his parents, his childhood, our childhood, etc. I regret not keeping a few items. When Mom passed 3 years later, we gave most of her stuff away too. I know it can be clutter, but I regret having nothing from them now.

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    1. All these comments have led me to the conclusion that shedding 'stuff' needs to be done slowly, in a thoughtful way or you will find yourself regretting the decisions you make in haste.

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  3. It is tough to go through things when you know that much of it has to be discarded. We can not bring ourselves to get rid of "stuff" I'm afraid we will dither until it's too late.

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    1. Oh, I imagine we will be a great inconvenience to our kids when we die.

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  4. I'm kind of the opposite, I get rid of everything and then later regret it. Before mum died I bought a photo album and we went through old photos and she told me who was in the photo and when the photo was taken. I wrote it all down in the album. Maybe one of my kids will look at it one day. I did keep all of my parent's letters from the war.

    You keep them because they mean something to you. Everybody is different.

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    1. I imagine that was a wonderful day. She got to relive some old days and you the life long gift of knowing what you were looking at when you flip through that album.

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  5. A lot of us are that way, I have so many things that mean something to me but not another person in the world. I have things that mean nothing but can't part with them. I tell my kids and grandkids anything you see in the house is yours. I have a cast iron skillet that I use regular, my Mom used it and it my Grandmother used it. Maybe even her mother. My grandson asks me if he can have it one day, I like that it will stay in the family. I do have a grand piano in my living room, my husband played for 55 years, I don't need it, but it meant so much to him. I did go through my pictures and wrote names and a little info on most of them. I gave my kids a lot of ones they might like. I just keep thinking going through this house when I am gone will give them a few smiles. Why did mom keep that!

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    1. I keep telling myself that without the stories, things mean absolutely nothing. I was cutting vegetables to make myself a little stir fry last night. Tim had gone out with his son. The little cutting board is one that my dad made in highschool and it is in the shape of a pig. When I am gone, the kids will see the old cutting board and toss it without ever knowing what it was.

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    2. My daughter asks me to get some stickers and write on them where special things came from. She said she would like to know things from her grandmothers and g. g. mothers.

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  6. You have them because you have the space. You may as well keep them until you have to move into Shady Pines. How does you retirement home compare in size to your present house? I try, not always successfully, to not be too sentimental about things. I ask myself now, Who will care when I am gone.

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    1. Now we live in a seven bedroom home. It is huge. You're right. I DO have the space. The retirement home is yet to be built. We have one more renovation to complete which is scarcely started. Once that is complete and on the market, we can turn an eye to building the retirement home, which will be a much smaller house with a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor with the livingroom and kitchen. There will be a big conservatory you would call it there, and upstairs two bedrooms and a bath for the kids and grandkids if they visit. Very much smaller. You are right. That is when the decisions will have to be made.

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  7. My mum took most of our family photos when she walked out on us all back in the 70s. My sister and I only had photos of Dad once he had died. We shared them between us and I still have mine in a shoe box.

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    1. That is very sad, Jaycee, but I am so glad that she saw fit to give you those pictures. I know families in which the bitterness was so great that the pictures were burned instead of shared with the people that would have treasured them.

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    2. Ah no, she didn't give them to us. She had left Dad's photos behind as she didn't want those.

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    3. She sounds like a dreadfully unhappy person who shared that where ever she went. I'm sorry.

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  8. My mother and father-in-law both died in the summer, leaving myself and my husband with 2 houses to clear (one done, one over 3 hours' drive away still in the process of clearance). We have found ourselves keeping quite random things - things we have always had a fondness for, but other things that we just didn't like to let go of. The really strange thing is that some items which my mother wanted me to have don't really hold any memories or meaning for me, so I haven't kept them. The thing I know I am really going to struggle with is the photographs. Getting rid of any will feel like binning memories.

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  9. This post especially speaks to me and as I type this, I'm sitting four feet away from a box of my grandparent's pictures. I've sorted through them and the ones that mean the most to me can fit in a regulation shoebox. The ones of scenery from various trips fill a much larger box. They wait for the day when I can part with them but that isn't today.

    Next to that is another even larger tote full of various odds and ends that I have ended up with. Somedays I feel nostalgic and sort through some of it. Other days, I'm able to let a few things go that I know will never be passed on after I'm gone. I liken it to pulling off a bandaid really really slow to ease the pain.

    These days I'm starting through some of the furniture with my brother. He's taking some memorable pieces that mean something to him and likewise, I'll be taking a couple that mean something to me. But with that, I'm having to rid some things that we collected over the years that while we enjoyed, don't have the memories attached to them. It is a fair trade but one that has to happen slowly so as to not be overwhelming.

    I think all this used to be much easier generations ago when we weren't so materialistic as a society. Things could be passed on many generations because it wasn't much and we had plenty of room. Now we have so much stuff, it is a lot harder to keep from getting buried with it all.

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    1. I guess that Bonnie's comment really resonated with me. I hold on to things because I'm holding on to memories. Suddenly, those old tattered quilts made sense. I remember laying in my painted wrought iron bed beneath one of those old quilts, deathly afraid of the thunder and lightning outside. I couldn't cry for my parents because it made my father mad. Those old quilts figure into some of my earliest memories. Passing things on for many generations made me laugh. My parents had old stuff that they were gifted when they were married, and it was a real point of pride for them when they could buy new and get rid of the old stuff. Now, 50 years later, there's me and my sister, and we're proud to buy the type of stuff that they were so proud to get rid of.

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    2. I forgot to mention this earlier but I found my baby quilt blanket made by my grandmother in a chest and it wasn't more than ribbons of material. I was going to throw it away but instead was urged to see if the local quilting club had any interest in it. They took it and said they would see what could be done if anything. Three months later, on the very week of my grandmother's funeral, I received it back. The border had been replaced with a different material and all the blocks resewn, but it was still recognizable to me. But I made a decision not to just store it away in a box anymore. It now resides on one of our chairs and is a throw blanket for anyone who needs a lap or foot warming.

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    3. I can understand the value of that.

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  10. I think it's better to hang onto things until you are 100% sure that it's time for it to go, then there won't be any regrets.

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  11. I took photos of many things. It's not the "thing" I wanted, it was the memory of it. The pictures let me keep the memories, and I was able to let the things go. And from looking around, it appears I should do that again, and soon!
    Bonnie in Minneapolis

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    1. You know, Bonnie, that makes sense. It's not the thing I want, it's the memories. Perfectly put.

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  12. My mother made a few albums that she labelled pretty well. I really appreciate having them.

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    1. You know, that's such a good thing. My sister and I talked about that quite a lot, the fact that there were so many pictures of people and places we did not know. But in a closet in my bedroom, there are boxes of pictures of our children and our lives. They are unlabeled too. Oh...the irony!

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  13. I have a lot of peoples' old stuff in my basement because I have the room right now. If I ever have to downsize, then it will have to be taken by my kids and grandkids or else it will be given away. So for now, I have room for lots of memorable crap but one day, I won't and life moves on...

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  14. My mother decided to throw away all the family photos she owned without telling me as she wanted to declutter her house. I was devastated, I would have happily had them here but it was too late. It felt like she wiped away some of my history, and as an adopted person those photos were all I had about my life with my adopted parents and brother.

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    1. How awful, Joe. It is hard to understand why people are like that. Does your brother have pictures to share? Or is he wiping away history too?

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  15. My thoughts are it is hard to let go of things like the photos because maybe you feel like you are letting go more of your parents. My mom has passed 14 years now and there are still silly things that I do that I can't stop doing it because it is way for me to keep her memory going.

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    1. The strange thing is that our relationship was not especially close. Perhaps its just a longing to feel that I was, maybe. I don't know.

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  16. A difficult one to comment on.
    Mother was always one for just chucking out...and she wasn't into Family either.
    What I have from her mother and my father is,thanks to her, rather random and sparse. She also refused to pass on any details of family when I started doing genealogy.
    Pirate has also suffered...when his sister died her daughter incinerated all the papers and photos from both her parents. But this also included Pirate's photos and papers that his sister had kept.

    We keep on meaning to get old photos and papers in albums, with annotations...but we are too busy living!!

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  17. How awful for both of you. I guess that is shocking to me that so many commenters here have dealt with that sort of vindictiveness from parents. I guess that there are far worse things than disorganized photos, GZ. That statement makes me feel much better about my own shortcoming in the area. The pictures are there, and they will not be thrown away.

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  18. We have boxes of photos that belonged to my in-laws. Like you, most of them are just holiday photos and mean nothing to us. We will get rid of them but sending them to the tip seems wrong as they represent memories. But ... those people are now gone and they have no need of their memories. It's a hard one.

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    1. It sure is. I keep thinking that I'll pull the boxes out and go through them one last time to make sure that there is nothing in there that anyone might want. But that is a process that will take HOURS.

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  19. I can absolutely identify with this post because we're going through the same issues in our family, having just cleaned out all my mom's stuff. We have tons of pictures of trips she took, and we've decided to toss them if they're just of landscapes or birds (since pictures like that don't really have any cultural or personal value). If they're of people or buildings we look at them a little more closely, but those might get tossed too. Not everything is worth keeping. (And this is coming from someone who bought a complete stranger's slides!)

    There's also nothing wrong with keeping things for purely sentimental reasons, like the rocking horse. It's just a matter of being selective.

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  20. That is a very sensible approach. I just need to set some hours aside this winter and just do it.

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  21. My mother has a few albums with photos of relatives in Japan. Her memory is fading. You're reminding me that I need to go through those photos with her to see if it's anything I need to scan and document.

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  22. As one who regrets getting rid of things…

    For things with family or sentimental value that can’t easily be tagged (like the pig-shaped cutting board), maybe write up a list of the items with their significance and put it with your will? Your kids and grandkids and beyond may love having even plain, simple items that connect them to the people in their past…. I know I do.

    If the photos are of places or are old enough, sometimes local historical societies or amateur historians might be interested in them. For the mystery photos, it might be fun some rainy day to post a few online (on sites for Western history buffs?) and see if anyone recognizes where/what they are.

    I’ve recently been looking online for photos of special local venues from my childhood that are now gone, and finding shockingly few — but there must be many in personal collections that it would be wonderful to see preserved!

    There are whole organizations devoted to ephemera, or a librarian might know of places to donate photos and scrapbook-items to…. I’ve seen people be interested in surprisingly mundane things!

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