Downsizing

The story was that my grandmother sold the cabin on the lake—furnishings and all—while my grandaddy was out fishing, and then they retired to Boca Raton, Florida, where they bought all new everything, including dishes, towels, and linens. Possibly that was even true.

They had already moved out of the large two-story house in Georgetown, Kentucky, where they had lived for more than twenty years while teaching at the college. I don’t know what happened to everything they once owned, but I know my mother has a few family items—a cherry press, a Seth Thomas clock, and a rocking chair with arms carved into swans that used to be in the formal living room. My brother may have another rocker that was in their master bedroom.

I used to own the Starr piano that was in my grandparents’ dining room, until I traded it in when I bought a new Baldwin the summer after I graduated from college. I also have a few items that somehow came down to me over the years, although I can’t quite remember how I ended up with them:

  • a small writing desk
  • a few sheets of piano music from the nineteen-fifties that belonged to my mother when she was a teenager
  • a ceramic pig that held sugar cookies in the large pantry off the kitchen
  • a set of Noritake china with pale pink and yellow roses and an ornately patterned rim
  • a small wicker rocker that belonged to grandmother when she was a girl

I also have a copy of my grandparents’ college yearbook from 1920, which they gave me when I graduated from their alma mater fifty-five years later, and a book called Boys and Girls at School, which grandaddy used to teach my mother how to read when she was only four.

I used to think my grandparents were crazy for getting rid of everything the way they did, but now I think they were very wise. Much of what they owned was not particularly valuable, but I have seen families break up over less. I have also seen people hold onto things well past the time when they still bring anyone pleasure, perhaps because they think the objects might be worth something someday, or the children might want them, or because they paid “good money” for them and it would be wasteful to get rid of something that is “still good.” These days there is also the guilt of adding one more thing to the landfills. I can definitely relate to all those reasons, but I’m trying to learn to let go. After all, every one of us will have to walk away from everything some day, whether we are ready or not.

For someone who claims not to care about material things, I sure have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. As I look around my house at the cluttered tabletops, the crowded bookshelves, the overstuffed closets, I wonder what it would be like to leave it all and not look back.  Mostly I think it would bring a wonderful sense of freedom, although I suspect I would soon discover that there are, in fact, things I can’t live without, things I would miss terribly. Over the years I have often played this little game with myself in which I imagine coming home and finding that my house has burned to the ground or been blown away in a tornado. In these scenes, I am always grateful that no one was hurt, but immediately I begin to alternate between feelings of immense relief that I am no longer burdened with possessions and deep-seated grief over all those things that can’t be replaced.

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