the persistence of memory through things

It’s odd to write this entry, as so many people in the Mississippi Delta are at risk of losing so much. Almost hubristic.

We spent the better part of this weekend unloading a bunch of ‘new’ furniture that we inherited in the dissolution of landisdad’s grandmother’s apartment, after she passed on two months ago. We also freecycled a bunch of stuff that we don’t need anymore, now that we have better versions. Ironically, my MIL told me that she thought I needed to be encouraged to throw things out. This is ironic for two reasons; first because when landisdad and I first moved in together, I had to personally throw out about 7 years’ worth of old newspapers that he and his grad school roommate had stored in their mud room*. Second, because she said this to me on a day when she sent us a truck that housed more furniture than our first apartment.

What my mother-in-law doesn’t know, is that to throw anything out requires me to overcome generations of programming on my mom’s side of the family. Landisdad’s family tends to hoard things like presentation copies of first editions by Adrienne Rich. Mine hoards wrapping paper. I kid you not, wrapping paper.

My mom and her sisters are the kind of people who give you a Christmas card with a label that is made out of one of last year’s Christmas cards with the personalized note cut off. Landisdad thinks it’s silly that I have a box where I store unused wrapping paper that’s left over from last year. What he doesn’t get is that my grandmother would remove all of the tape from used Christmas wrapping paper to reuse it again year after year.

One of the things that we got in this bounty of landisdad’s family heirlooms was all of the photographs from the apartment. There are some amazing things there, and landisdad has committed to getting everything scanned so we can preserve it digitally. It’s a remarkable amount of pictures, but as LD’s grandparents both lived well into their nineties–it’s the cumulative photographic history of several hundred years of the family (when you add in the pictures of his great-grandparents that have survived).

We showed some of the pictures to the kids this weekend, and as we unpacked boxes and gave their things a new home in our house, it sunk in for me that they are really gone, in a way that it hadn’t before. But at the same time, they will always be with us. And I thought to myself, “my children will be doing this when I’m gone. They’ll be dividing up the antique furniture, and the books, and the pictures, and giving them to their kids (I hope).”

And that’s a really nice feeling to have. To know that things I use every day were used by relatives that neither landisdad or I have ever met, and to know that they will be continued to be used by descendants that we will never meet.

*Sorry honey, if you’re gonna tell a bunch of my coworkers about what you did on your 26th birthday, then this one is fair game.


August 29, 2005. thoughtful parenting. 5 comments.