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  • Writer's pictureJayne Lisbeth

Artifacts Of My Life

My family was visiting from Brooklyn and Philadelphia during spring break. They hadn't visited recently. In the span between visits Tim and I had adorned our home with even more art, antiques, small pieces of furniture and Knick knacks. As we sat around the dinner table I noticed my family looking around at all our beloved possessions. I spread my arms wide encompassing our treasure-laden walls and proudly said, “Just think, someday all this will be yours!” I was met with silence and uncertain, perhaps horrified looks. My dear grandson piped up, “What do you mean, Grandma? Someday all this will be ours?” Judiciously I replied, “When your grandfather and I no longer need everything around us.” I tried to look at our home through their eyes. We really did have an awful lot of stuff.

I was reminded of a property Tim and I had purchased in Oregon. The home belonged to an elderly artist, writer and seamstress which she had left to her children. The family had sold the house with everything in it to us. As we started to unearth each room we discovered mountains of belongings. Included was her art, her journals and her piles of fabric she had meant to use for future projects, but never had.

When we discovered her art and treasures we were certain her family would not want to leave these testaments of their mother’s life to total strangers. I called her son and asked if he would want to come by and pick up the prized relics of her life, her art and journals. He declined. “No, just throw it all away.” His reply hurt my soul. Didn’t these trophies of her past mean anything to her family? Apparently not.

That brought me back to the subject of our own relic, treasure, tchotchke crowded home. The bottom line is: What will we, or our family, do with all our belongings, witnesses to our lives, once we ‘no longer need them?’

I confronted our enshrined world, the testimonials to my and Tim's lives, lived together and apart. Our art, Knick knacks, paperweights, my heart collection, yards of books read and meant to be read; Tim’s comics, his records, his 290 volumes of his drawings, his 80,000 drawings in boxes, under the couch and in the garage; drafts of my future books, my “Food for Thoughts,” Tim’s poetry. What about my collection of refrigerator magnets and squirreled-away cards received and those waiting to be sent? Then, there is our glass, porcelain, eight plus sets of dishes, furniture, clothes, antique quilts, sheets and towels. It made my head hurt. “I’ll think about that…someday.” I promised myself.

Coincidentally, my dear Vermont sister and I connected that day. She had just hosted a large Memorial Day party for her family. During the event, she contemplated the enormous task of relegating her belongings to visiting family.

My Vermont sista was no novice to this enormous task. She had spent all of 2021 and more to organize her 100-year-old mother’s home for sale. It had been thousands of hours cleaning the home prior to her Mom entering an assisted living facility. It was an endless task of going through closets, photographs, drawers, the vast basement, her stamp collection, furniture and so much more. With that enormous task in her mind and family visiting Sherrie realized her responsibility.

“I’m starting to clean out the big playroom over the garage,” she confided. "I’m going to get rid of all the toys and children’s books and cassettes. No one even has a cassette player anymore. So, I’m asking myself, ‘why have I saved all this stuff?’”

My dear sister’s rationale made me squirm. Maybe I should think about cleaning out our house. After all, Tim is 74 and I’m 73. We should address this issue while we still have our wits about us, relatively speaking.

Sherrie continued her rant. “I’m just too damn sentimental. Our grandkids won’t even want any of this crap. I tried to give my granddaughter my Nancy Drew books which were mine and my mother’s. She reluctantly took one and will decide if she wants more.”

I gasped. “Your Nancy Drew books? How could you give them away?” That started us down the path of Nancy Drew adventures, which led me to Nancy Drew's Guide to Life, a book gifted to me by my dear friend, Bonnie, the Nancy to this Bess. A few excerpts follow:

"Moxie and a good sense of balance are essential when crawling on a roof."

The Hidden Staircase.

"Flowers sent by secret admirers might be coated in poison." The Secret of the Golden Pavilion.

"Cover your face immediately when confronted with an explosion. Obviously it is good to avoid explosions in general." The Mystery of the Fire Dragon.

"Adventure can make you hungry! Pack a hearty snack." The Moonstone Castle Mystery.

Sherrie continued. “And did you know Carolyn Keene only made $125 for each Nancy Drew book she wrote? And many Nancy Drew books were written by a number of ghost writers? But I’m NOT getting rid of all my MAD Magazines!” In my mind’s eye I saw her determined look. My dear Vermont sister is not one to be argued with. She continued her litany of beloved items not to be thrown into the dust bin.

I heard the echo of Tim’s similar complaints to me, “I’m not getting rid of my favorite LPs!” An image of our garage came to mind which my beloved had been attempting to clean with some success, for four years. Each time he cleaned out a corner or aisle some newly ‘found’ items would sneak into freshly freed spaces.

“Yeah, I replied. I guess we do have an awful lot of prized possessions…” My voice wandered, my thoughts in a muddle of concern. I asked myself, ‘What is precious to us, to me? What memories in decorative art should we keep? What should we discard? What parts of our lives are worth saving?’

Logic reared her ugly head as I realized there are many things we have loved and saved. But more and more frequently we cannot find these treasures as we age and go searching for our past on bookshelves and in the depths of our closets. "I know it's here somewhere..." we mutter to one another.

I came to a decision. I want to live with the beloved witnesses to my life, from Great Neck, Long Island to Tampa, Florida. Tim wants to live with his past lives, from Columbus, Georgia to Tampa, Florida. We are our own artifacts to lives well lived. All those moments laughed over, all the dinner parties with meals served on my pretty dishes, all the dear experiences imprinted on our walls, in our cupboards and in our hearts and souls. I don’t want our lives to be sold in a garage or estate sale where people are ‘going through old people’s stuff.’ Not yet. My kids can do that, eventually. When I am no longer in need of all our 'stuff.'

My Vermont sister and I ended our conversation, her words ringing in my ears. I approached my closet and attempted to clean my wardrobe from 1970 to today. Eventually, my closet got the better of me. I closed the door without removing a single item for the charity box. I chuckled, having reached a conclusion. “Nope, I told my home. I’m not cleaning anything out before ‘I no longer need' my worldly life. It’s up to my kids to go through the safety deposit boxes of our existences. They can clean out the detritus of our lives and hearts. It will no longer be my problem.

I stretched out on the couch and settled down to a nice long read with an old friend, Nancy Drew. The Secret of the Brass Trunk beckons. I am certain Nancy Drew, alive and well in my bookcase, would approve.

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