This is Us

I read an article recently about how most children, when it comes time, don’t want any of their parents “stuff”.  There’s a minimalist movement going on and this stuff is seen as clutter and junk.  While I also like to live a very minimalistic life, there are some “things” I just won’t part with.  I don’t see these things as junk, or clutter, rather I see them as a way to tell my story and that of those who came before me.  Yes, most of these items are really just “things”.  Yes, most of these items do create some clutter in my home and require care and cleaning.  But, I see them as a way to visit with my family and keep those who have come before me close to my heart.

Today, on this rainy Sunday morning, my husband and I set out to wash all the items in a large wall unit in our living room.  It’s time to get ready to host Christmas dinner and to deep clean the living and dining room.  We barely use these rooms anymore, as it’s just the two of us.  Washing each item today took me on a nostalgic journey down memory lane.  As my husband carried each piece to me in the kitchen for hand washing, he began lamenting that we have way too much stuff.  I tried to explain to him, though I’m not sure he got it, that each item has a story connected to it.  I even tried to tell him a few of the stories to prove my point.  He smiled and continued carrying things back and forth for a few hours, not convinced but no longer complaining.

When my grandmother, lovingly known as Nanny, passed away 30 years ago my dad called and said they were cleaning out her apartment.  He asked if there was anything specific I wanted to have.  I told him I really only wanted two things – her green piggy bank and her junior high school autograph book.

Those were two items that nobody else would want and truly the only things I wanted.  I wasn’t interested in her pots and pans, her furniture or television.  Rather, I wanted a piece of her story, her journey through this life.  I wanted something that connected me to her, in a very personal way and would stay with me through my time without her.

When I was growing up, we didn’t need to wait for Christmas to see our family.  Most of my family lived in one apartment building on Seneca Avenue in Ridgewood, NY.

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A recent photograph of 932 Seneca Avenue. I can still see my Nanny at the top right window waving to us after we dropped her off at home after her visits with us.  

My Nanny and Baba had a apartment on the top floor.  Across from them, lived my Uncle George and Aunt Rose and downstairs my Aunt Catherine and Uncle Jimmy.  In the next building, lived my Aunt Rose’s family.  These were magical times, though we didn’t know it at the time.  Who knew that years later most families wouldn’t live like this, that this would be the exception, not the norm.  I spent most of my Sunday mornings at this apartment building visiting.  Many mornings we played Pinochle or Canasta and many mornings we just spent time together.  One thing I loved to do as a young child, was to pour out all the coins in my Nanny’s piggy bank.  I loved to sort and count the coins and tell her how much money she had in the pig.  Sometimes I helped her roll the coins to take to the bank and cash in.  My Nanny didn’t have a lot of money, so collecting change was a way she saved up to buy the extra things she wanted.  Having this piggy bank on my dresser, still holding some of her coins means the world to me.  When I look at it, I can still see myself as a small child pouring and counting as she and my dad sat in the kitchen sipping coffee and eating crumb cake.  I can hear her radio playing and her canary Chip singing along happily.

My Nanny also had an autograph book in her apartment when I would visit.  She never let me read it, or play with it, but I knew of its existence.  I am by nature curious and fascinated by stories from the past.  I love looking at old photographs and hearing about the people living in them.  I knew this book meant a lot to my Nanny, but just assumed it was the reminder of her youth that made it so.  When I received the book after she died, I spent time reading each entry.  Many are faded as the book is from 1928, but it struck me how similar the entries in this book were to those of today.  As I read, I imagined the people who wrote them, so young and full of life as they were setting out on their journeys.  I had no idea really who anyone in the book was, but as I saw multiple entries from someone called Wuff, I began to wonder who he was.  Finally I realized that Wuff was my grandfather and these were secret love letters he was hiding in her autograph book.  My grandfather was much older than my grandmother at 29, when she was just 14, scandalous really.  I believe he was hiding these notes in this autograph book so as not to be discovered.  How truly special this book is to me, even 30 years later.  I haven’t read it in awhile, but today as I took my trip back through time, I pulled it out.  I won’t share any of the personal notes, but here are a few of his playful messages.

Today, I wonder if nobody wants this so called junk anymore, who will carry forward these stories.  How will we preserve our past?  I know you don’t need a lot of stuff, but these personal items carry our stories.  Surely we can downsize these items, but do our children really need to throw them all away?  Maybe, we need to return to these days gone by to realize the importance of keeping our memories.  Having these trinkets helps me remember and tell the story of us.  I can touch each one and conjure up a memory of a person and a moment that was shared.  I hope that the generations to come can find a place for them in their hearts and homes, for if not many precious memories will be lost.

Here are a few trinkets I visited with today and the special memory attached.

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My dad gave me the Lladro on the left on the day my daughter was born.  It depicts the love between a mother and daughter, as well as my love of reading and the stories that connect us.  Lladro on the right belonged to my mother. It was bought by my dad when he was a young, beat copy working in Jackson Heights.  He came upon a store that sold china and Lladros and purchased many treasures for us throughout his career.
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A Lladro gifted to my by my brother after his trip to Spain.  While they were away I took care of their house so they purchased this for me as a thank you.  This was from the 1980s and in the height of my obsession with aerobic class and leggings.
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Housewarming gift given to my parents by my Nanny & Baba in the early 1950s.  This handmade pottery was used through their 60 year marriage for snacks and candy at any party my mother had.   Totally not my style, but I can still see it in its grandeur filled with love.  Mom cared for it lovingly as I do now.
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My mother loved to be modern and this vase was one of her first purchases as a new bride decorating her apartment in the early 1950s.
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One of the many equestrian awards my daughter won   This was won with her first pony, Spring, for Pony of the Year.
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My daughter on Christmas morning when she received her second horse, Blue Whisper.  My parents and I went down to the barn with her on a very cold December morning.  She was in fourth grade at the time, about 9 years old.   These two horses loved each other and gave her such joy and success in the horse show world.
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Cathy and Blue Whisper at an Eventing competition.  This picture captures his fire and her joy riding and competing.

I’d love to hear about items that carry special meaning for you. Feel free to drop me a line below and share your story.