Sunday, August 21, 2011

My mother's cookie jar

My dad's health had declined so suddenly early in 2004 that he couldn't live alone any longer and my brothers and I were left scrambling to make arrangements for his care. We also had to figure out what to do with his house and all the stuff in it.

The short story is that we shared dad and cared for him as best we could amongst us while we set about cleaning out and selling his house. I don't remember how many 20-yard dumpsters we'd paid for, but still... my attic ended up filled with dad's books, mom's dresses and lots of assorted "stuff" from numerous generations of our family.

I never really dealt with any of that stuff properly. I'm awful about purging my own things, let alone all this sentimental crap... my dad's high school ring, a letter he wrote from France to my mom while they were engaged, her wedding dress preserved in a fancy cardboard box...

What am I to do with any of this?

Life has found me in a place now that I'm sorting through the collections of a childhood and a marriage: my lifetime so far. Some things are easy to keep and others... pfft! It seems impossible to do anything other than cart them around with me until sometime when I can think more clearly about their meaning and real merit in my future.

I've been washing and boxing up my mother's china and sorting through ridiculous amounts of bird-related-kitsch the last couple weeks. I've no idea what to do with the perfectly-preserved wedding dresses worn for two failed marriages, but...

(sad sigh)

This cookie jar, as awful-looking as it is... I know I want to keep it!

: )

Of course it would be meaningless to anyone else, but I remember it there on the counter above the breadbox in the house I grew up in. It's one remnant of my childhood... innocent of any guilty feelings and sense of obligation... I see it and think of Scooter Pies and Pecan Sandies.

: )

In the last couple years I'd used this as a treat jar for my bunnies... appropriate, no? It broke at some point recently and my sweet DexH glued it back together for me.

- - - - - - - - - - -

"My mom" is just an empty title to most people in my life. I have just one friend who remembers her, in fact. It's 30 years since she passed away when I was 11. I can look at pictures of her and still smell her perfumed hug or remember days at the beach as a kid. There is little in my life, now, to make her a real person. This ugly cookie jar was probably meaningless to her... an empty household piece that once belonged to the most important person in my life.

Despite my inclinations to the contrary, I still hold on tightly sometimes. I still think her stuff is as sacred as my memory of her.

- - - - - - - - - - -

I wonder what it is that you all have been carting around with you to remember the people that once loved you? A pink trunk full of tattered love letters? A collection of tools? That set of crystal hi-ball glasses you can't bear to part with, tho you don't even really know what a hi-ball is?

: )

Do tell, please. Lend me some comfort in my state of overwhelmedness.

22 comments:

MevetS said...

Of my four grandparents, one passed before I was born, and two others before I was a teenager. It is only my mom's mom that I knew. And I knew her quite well as she lived the last seventeen years of her life with us.

I have two treasured possessions. One a small porcelain dog she gave me when I moved into my first place. She said I needed a pet and new of my fondness for canines. She also noted that it would be easy to care for.

The second is a christmas cactus plant that blooms christmastime every year. A cutting from her plant, something many of us grandkids have.

Both have honored positions on my kitchen windowsill.

robin andrea said...

We imbue things with meaning, and they become sacred to us. So, hold on to that cookie jar. Your mom held it in her hands, and you hold it yours. It's a perfectly beautiful way to stay connected. When we have lost our absolutely dearest loved ones, what else do we have? A cookie jar. A golden barrel cactus. It's our way of saying, "we remember."

Susan Gets Native said...

First off: BIG HUG for my Jersey Girl. (I don't care where you live, you will always be my JG)

I have a cutting board that belonged to my grandmother. It's not fancy or carved or ornate in any way. But it bears the marks of probably 50 or more years of use, shallow gouges along a wooden surface that to anyone else would be meaningless. But that piece of wood is a tangible reminder of making homemade chicken noodle soup with her (noodles from scratch, veggies she grew herself, a chicken that up to a few minutes before had been running in her yard), of learned,floured hands guiding my small inexperienced ones through a pile of pie crust, showing me just how thin to make it. She showed love through her cooking, and I have a piece of that.
Every time I chop fruit for Lorelei or salad fixings for Isabelle, my grandmother is right there with me, guiding me through memory and blood ties and the part of me that came from her.
Need I mention that my Dad is never far from my thoughts, either? That he learned to chop and kneed and create on that very board?
That board has been with me since her death in 1994. It's been placed with reverence in every kitchen I have had since then. It's never going anywhere, until the day that I can no longer lift it from its place, and on that day it will go to one of my girls. And maybe they will see me live on, through its scarred plane.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I wear a medal that was given to my Dad by the priest that taught him the Catholic faith the year I was born. It was a huge scandal in my Dad's Norwegian Lutheran family.

I wear my Mom's wedding ring. She handed it to me the day she went into the hospital.

Phyllis's son gave me her rosary.

But what I really cherish from all three are bits of their handwriting.

Mary said...

Oh, Laura.

I have a spinnet piano that my Dad bought in 1964. He played honky tonk for years on that piano and I can still hear it in my memory. Our voices loud and laughing... But, it sits behind me now, silent, as no one in the family plays... It's been moved from state to state three times and is horribly out of tune but I will keep it.

My Mom left me her diamond solitaire, a 15th wedding anniversary gift from Dad. I kept a bottle of bubble bath that was a Christmas gift from her a year before she passed. It is displayed on my garden tub and will be there forever. Some articles of clothing she gave me are packed away - pieces I will save forever. I have kept books she asked me to read. I have not read them.

Take your time and don't be quick to toss. Carry some things with you until you have more time to reflect. You're so busy now!

Hugs,
Mary

KGMom said...

Hmmm--a great question for some thinking: what have I been carting around.
Not much. With my parents working overseas, they accumulated little, and brought less home. Just a few things that I have--a teapot my mother bought in Holland...looks Delft but probably not authentic.
My aunt gave me her teacup collection--about 21 different cups with their matching saucers. Since I never have high tea, I decided to give them away--gave my daughter first pick, then my son's wife. What's left, I will give to nieces or wives of nephews.
When my husband's step-dad decided to move himself and his mom into a retirement village, the step-dad said NOT one word to my husband. Consequently, their house was emptied out by other folks--and we got none of any of the things his mother had always said was to go to our son or daughter. That was bitter--even though things are only things.
It is actually the living "things" that matter--the dear ones in our lives, special people and pets. And of course, the irony is that all flesh will pass.

LauraHinNJ said...

Lynne: Handwriting... nope, can't throw any of that away...

: )

It's such a personal thing and seems to persist in a way that the memory of a voice or whatnot doesn't.

Somewhere, in some box here, is a grocery list my mom wrote 30+ years ago on the back of an envelope. And a note from my dad, in his very particular block letters, about the money my mom loaned him to pay for her engagement ring.

Queensgirl said...

I have my Grandma Lillie's kitchen table. The red top is scratched and resists cleaning, the legs wobble terribly, and I keep thinking it's time to junk it and get a kitchen table that doesn't feel sticky all over, but I can't get to that point. And, I have a tiny wooden stool that was a part of my Grandma Minnie's house, that I feel very secretive about. I keep thinking that if my sisters or brother knew I had this stool, they would want it too. (Sibling rivalry lives on in the strangest ways.)

My parents are still around, but I keep, in unexpected places, the few notes I've received from my dad over the years. And, lately I've been keeping the birthday cards signed by my mom. That handwriting thing.

There is a china figurine of flowers in a basket in my living room that I treasure because it belonged to Lil. The other day, my daughter Sarah reminded me that it was hers, her memory of her great-grandmother. I had forgotten that. At first I was a little upset, but then I realized that this is the way these things work, that our objects of memory should be handed down, like Susan will hand down her cutting board, to those who will carry on the traditions of memory and honor and love.

Rabbits' Guy said...

Good luck! Life is hard. They are gone.

My idea is to keep little and keep carefully. Life is more for tomorrow than for yesterday. Somebody will have to go through your stuff sometime too ...

Jayne said...

I was born on my grandfather's birthday and was always "his" baby. He was badge #2 at the Oak Ridge, TN police department and retired after 33 years of service. I have his badge and his holster for his gun in my curio along with photos of the two of us when I was probably 6 or 7 and full of wonder about my papaw the policeman. Wouldn't part with it for the world.

Island Rider said...

As a historian, it is hard for me to get rid of things because I see them as artifacts! But, last year, due to termites, we had to purge and completely clean out our attic. For me, it is childrens books. I have all my mother's and many of my grandmother's children's books. Some are so frail, I would be afraid to use them, but to think of them curled up in a chair with them and then, me, too as a child is sweet. I have a few other things, but the books are most special.

Julie Zickefoose said...

This post is so lovely and deeply felt. What do you do with things you can't throw away? I find myself surreptitiously throwing out stacks of birthday cards soon after the event, and feeling horribly guilty about it, but truly, you can't save everything. And when it's someone else's--someone who's passed away--the guilt is magnified. Stuff. It's all just stuff.
My stuff includes a dovetail cornered box, about 2' square, atop which my dad spray-painted a checkerboard. He made the checkers out of corncobs he sawed up and then painted red and black!! Agh! I love it so much, and I keep the nasty old checkers inside the box.
love this post, Laura. Good luck with the move. It's hard, hard, hard. Hang in there.

ReluctantChickenFarmer said...

Funny. You put away things hoping someday to get around to giving them the proper attention they need. That day never seems to come. You move "that box" or "those boxes" from place to place never really digging down past the first few items on the surface because you know going deeper is "going deeper". What will those that come after us think about the "stuff" when we never really got around to telling them the meaning and the spirit behind that silly thing we kept ? A cookie jar with no soul is meaningless junk. I remember that cookie jar because you could never sneak a cookie without Mom hearing the lid being put back. I was good at sneaking a cookie but Brian always got caught. I can still hear the sound it made in my head. Experience and age counts for something. Keep the things that mean something to you. I have kept those that mark moments in time for me, like that dopey little porcelain dog house with the family name on it.

When we reach that age when we can no longer care for ourselves, it will be important to let our loved ones know about these cookie jars of memory, otherwise they end up in the 20 yard dumpster with all the other things that seemed so important to us, but didn't have time to weed through the boxes.

Take a cookie from the memory jar once in a while and savor it. Nice thing is, you no longer have to sneak it !

NatureWoman said...

I love the cookie jar full of memories for you, Laura! I have *way* too much stuff from my ancestors, but stuff that shouldn't be thrown away. The most important items to me right now is a note my Dad wrote to me that I keep in my wallet, and his favorite mechanical pencil that my Mom gave to me right after he died. I keep that in a pocket in my purse. I wish you well with your move. I'm in the process of packing, too, and it's a nightmare!

vicki said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LauraHinNJ said...

Oh god, Vicki... I just deleted your comment instead of responding to it!

Sorry!

(clumsy fingers)

Thank you for the good wishes!

LauraHinNJ said...

NatureWoman: Be mindful of that note in your wallet... paper (and handwriting) disintegrates over time... I know!

; )

Kev: I'd forgotten to mention the peculiar sound the lid makes on that jar... thanks for reminding me of it!

I love Queensgirl's (Donna) comment about sibling rivalry... I have mom's broken xmas angel here in a box of very terrible, awful glasware... wanna trade, say, for...

; )

Webtoad said...

My grandmother, Nanny, used to wear a hair net--which seems an insignificant fact. But my mother gave me, recently, her mother's bible, which has an old threadbare hair net stuck in the back cover.

I can't touch it without it bringing back memories of Nanny's "Mmmm-mmm" whenever she hugged me, and feeling a catch in my heart.

...

One personal thing from my own childhood that I can't part with is my old Strat-o-Matic Baseball game. I loved playing that game and I had a best friend, Loren Levy, with whom I would stay up all night & all weekend playing the game.

It came with packs of stats cards for each and every major league player and Loren & I memorized those stats. Now I look up at the box in the back of my closet and at those ziplock bags full of cards--and I think "why am I keeping those?"

:-) I know why.

Anonymous said...

I have a shoebox of letters from my cousin....we were penpals while growing up. She kept mine as well until a few years ago, when she got rid of loads of stuff while going thru recovery. I really would have loved to read them again, for a glimpse of who I was 35 years ago.

Other things I keep I like to use or display...to honor the person and their memory. I have a set of simple red glass cups from my husband's step-mother that I use to serve homemade lemon sherbert in. I have my mother's favorite recipes in her handwriting that I am sharing with my daughter. My husband has his grandfather's wood toolbox that he keeps on his workbench, surrounded by fancy tools.

I think we keep what reminds of of others, but also treasure what it shows about ourselves and what we value.

The dog, the bunnies, the beach, your photos and your writing...those are givens that you will keep with you. You get to choose the rest.

Overwhelmed I'm sure. Hang in there.

Heather
Wayne, PA

NCmountainwoman said...

You have already made one sound decision...box and keep it all for the time being. There is a reason you chose to keep certain things and now is not the time to let them go. If you have room, keep all of it until you are inclined to go through and purge.

dguzman said...

Oh honey, that cookie jar is a keeper.

dguzman said...

And, OOOOOOOHHHHHH! I'm so happy about your upcoming move!

Big hugs!