The thrift shop cometh, or: Disposing of Mama’s treasures

My mother’s cherished possessions

3 minute read
I want to sell my house, so I'm downsizing. I pay a guy a few bucks to carry heavy boxes from the basement.

I'm not even sure what's inside these boxes— they've never been opened or unpacked. All I remember is that they contain my mother's most cherished possessions. I've been carting them from place to place ever since she died in New Jersey in 1989.

My mother's treasures are those almost ordinary necessities that an ambitious housewife, first-generation immigrant stock, would prize and aspire to pass on to her daughter: crystal, silver, porcelain, lace, linen, cut glass— symbols of what she envisioned as the finer life from her small corner of the 20th Century.

I'm sure she scrimped and saved endlessly for them out of my father's modest salary as an electronics engineer for the government.

While polishing some of my mother's silver, I notice a sterling saltshaker still filled with salt… her salt. In there all this time. By now, the salt itself could be a collectible.

Nevertheless, I pour it down the kitchen sink. And it actually pours. Must be iodized. Surreal.

One useful item

I am my family's museum— repository of all our lost dreams and desires. I'm uncomfortable in this role, but here I am. They're all gone: my mother, my father, my brother. Their possessions have outlived them, and now they're obtrusive. Redundant. Annoying. Except for my mom's wristwatch, which I wear each day to keep her near me, second after second.

Sometimes, I feel possessed by my possessions. I yearn to start anew, free from my relentless collections of objects.

Not surprisingly, no one else really seems to want these objects, either. Not my friends. Not the snooty Main Line consignment shop with more rules for transacting business than the Department of Homeland Security. Not even the fancy silver resale boutique downtown.

How, I wonder, could I possibly squeeze all my possessions into the equivalent of just one room? What would become of my brother's ceramic Wizard of Oz lamp, a replica of the Emerald City? What about my father's slingshot? My mother's lace party dresses?

Dump everything?

Too often, one person's heirloom is definitely another's hideosity. Sooner or later, everything winds up at the thrift shop. I can see myself finally deciding in exasperation, Oh, just dump everything and get on with your life!

Suddenly I understand why, unlike me, people have children: You can leave them all your crap. But even parenthood offers no assurance that your treasures will live on through your family or friends.

"I'm sure my kids will throw away my stuff they'll inherit," my friend Lynn says. "Which is why I'm asking people, in advance, what they want of mine. Say, would you like my airline miles?"


To read responses, click here.

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