I sit at the dining room table that as a child I crawled under to get from living room to kitchen or bath so the adults did not have to stand to allow passage. My Mother and I are tasked with going through the strong box in search of cemetery deeds. Instead we find my grandmother’s treasures.
This home, my grandmother’s home, was more home to me than any other place I have ever lived. I attribute this to the memories held within these walls. The holidays. The Sunday visits. The random family gatherings. Chelsea St. was the meeting place for all occasions. To my grandmother, this was the home she’d lived for most of her life. Not simply her adult life, or married life, but the majority of her 90 years.
The house itself is full of things. There is a collection of tea cups and saucers, an army of bells, photographs framed and placed on surfaces with little space for any additions, and plants – mostly Christmas cactuses. These were my grandmother’s things. My grandfather had his own things, which consisted mostly of WWII era model airplanes, and plaques honoring his support and commitment to the local high school football team. Most of their things had been in place for so long that in my lifetime they blended into the background almost unnoticed until it was time to pack everything away.
My grandmother fell on her 90th birthday and would pass away not long after. Which brings us back to the dining table and the strong box. We never did find the cemetery deed though I believe its envelope was there for safekeeping. Among the house deed and other legal documents there were Radio City show programs from the 50’s, and soap…a tiny bar of hotel soap and a single, individually wrapped sugar cube that were clearly from another era. How perfect a day must have been that the memories associated with this sugar cube and hotel soap felt worth keeping in the strong box as a reminder of how good it was. I wish I knew the story of that day. What emotion the sight of her treasures would invoke years later. Perhaps this an assumption on my part – perhaps its just soap but I’d rather believe these things were kept and hidden safely away with love and intention.
My grandfather, who passed in 2009, had his own hidden treasures. At least that is how I see his rock collection. He was known to pocket a random small stone when he traveled someplace as a memento. They were never really discussed or on display but as we cleaned out Chelsea St in preparation for its sale Michigan was passed back to me. My parents and grandparents had come to visit me in Michigan when I was in graduate school. The small stone labeled Michigan with sharpie now lives with a rock from Ground Zero in my home.
I do not keep many things. There are no collections without utility in my home – my Fiestaware is the closest thing to a collection I have and I do not buy pieces that I wont actually use on a regular basis. There are some small things I’ve kept over the years. I have a collection of ticket stubs from concerts and festivals that will likely not continue to build as the world has sadly gone digital. I want the things that I save and allow to occupy space in my life to invoke a smile, a warmth, to represent a memory recognizable mainly to me. When I pass I want someone who loved me to wonder with a smile – why the hell is there a sugar cube in the strong box?
My grandfather never said goodbye; it was always see you later. It did not matter whether you were leaving for an afternoon or a season. See you later. As for my grandmother it was goodnight and God bless and, in reply to I love you, very very. These are the memories no thing can embody.