Treasures and Trinkets
For the past month we have been combing through countless family treasures at my Mom’s house; deciding which pieces need to stay in the family and which pieces can find a new home. Along with the necessary downsizing comes one decision after another. Some of the choices are easy: “Oh THAT can go in the yard sale!” Others are more difficult. And sometimes a piece of the past is something that both of us – my sister and I – would like to hang onto. We are determined not to allow ourselves to have any ill feelings when one or the other of us gets a coveted item, and will catch ourselves saying, “Try to remember; it’s just ‘stuff.’”
Isn’t it amazing, though, how a simple item can evoke so many memories and feelings? For example, as we unfolded quilts and caught the smell of the cedar chest that they had been stored in, my mind was immediately transported back in time to my grandmother’s house. She had a small cedar chest that stored her precious handkerchiefs and would sometimes open it to show them to us; the scent came wafting from even that tiny chest. Later, as we opened the little tin recipe files that had been my grandmother’s, I could almost smell each of the recipes being cooked, and could picture her in the kitchen as she worked furiously to prepare a family meal.
As we read letters that my Dad had written to his family during World War II, I could almost hear his voice as he talked about his adventures. As we shined up my Mom’s old sewing machine, I could picture her sitting there making our bell bottom pants with matching drawstring purses. The little old black pot-bellied stove was actually a piggy bank full of pennies that had been used as a door stop for most of my childhood. And the old photographs! So many wonderful memories that were captured in pictures.
What we have learned through this process is that the true “treasures” of the past might not be worth anything at all to someone else. Many beautiful things went into the yard sale simply because they held no emotional attachment to any of us; our kids included. The things that we found ourselves clinging to and refusing to part with were the items that evoked some sort of fond memory for us; pieces of the past that are actually priceless. An antique thimble that was probably used in the making of those breathtaking quilts, made to fit fingers much tinier than our own. A box of keys that might have opened doors as far back as the Civil War. Letters written during an era that we can only imagine.
I worry a bit that in the future, all of these priceless treasures will be cast aside as the generations behind us are becoming “minimalists.” In our current culture, I think that we have grown to be afraid to hang onto family treasures in fear that someone will accuse us of hoarding. So many television shows focus on the extreme people who truly have a sickness that we confuse the simple act of preserving the past with an unnatural inability to let go of things. To me, hanging onto a letter or quilt that has been carefully kept for over a hundred years is simply accepting the responsibility of preserving the past for future generations.