Heart of remembrance

Boxes. Boxes. Everywhere, boxes. In a house already bursting at the seams, I wonder where I am going to put their contents. Current popular lore says that the way to a less stressful and happier life is to dispose of your clutter (i.e. your lifetime of treasures), hence, the overwhelming popularity of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo.

But, anyone who has ever been to my house knows that I don’t subscribe to this particular theory, and, likely never will. I’m much more in line with Dominique Browning who offers a counter argument to tossing and speaks about the love of keeping in a recent New York Times article.

So here I sit, in the family room, surrounded by my boxes, on a warm summer day, memories of my late mother-in-law swirl in my head, for these are her possessions that have been handed down to me for safekeeping. For a minimalist and someone who had downsized many times in recent years, my mother-in-law had a surprisingly significant amount of stuff. 

As I open each box, I revel in what I find: the wolf sculpture that my husband wanted that sat in his father’s study in every house he lived in; the small china jar decorated with a bee pattern that acted as a jam jar on the breakfast table; the family chess set and the game table with the needlepoint top; the ribbon collection (carefully saved to be reused); high school and college yearbooks; and many boxes of family photos, including the ones I had sent to her of my children, along with their artwork, lovingly stored in special boxes.

And, then I find what I was most hoping to receive: the family recipe collection. Handwritten recipes in my mother-in-law’s distinctive calligraphic script, or typed in the font she always used, or clipped from magazines or shared by friends, they are all there in a series of notebooks. But, even better is what I call the “Entertaining Diary.”  As a young corporate wife in the ’60s and ’70s, she did a lot of business entertaining and recorded each event with guest lists, seating charts, menus; the same for family events. I can picture her sitting at the table, calmly planning each event and then setting to work, with her three young sons galloping underfoot.

But, the unexpected find is sometimes the very best, that ah-hah! moment when you discover something you didn’t even realize you wanted. Buried deep in one of the boxes and heavily wrapped, I find dishes. Not just any set of dishes. but ones that my husband remembers eating from during his childhood at his grandmother’s house. Handed down to my mother-in-law, they became her everyday dishes by the time my husband was in high school, and were the ones her grandchildren (my children) ate from. Now they are in my house, where one day, if I’m lucky, my grandchildren will eat from these same plates.

And that’s what keeping things is all about: A link to the past. Continuity. Family.

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