More Really Is More
Like many young people just starting out, I lived in a miniscule apartment with a rent, including water, so low by today’s standards that I am embarrassed to tell you.
It was furnished with family castoffs, book shelves made of cinder blocks and two-by-fours and many house plants to fill in the blank spaces. I even made floor lamps by sticking a light bulb on the floor and putting terra cotta sewer piping on top to create a sort of spotlight.
I was inordinately proud when I was able to buy a tweedy sofa and a Parsons table for the kitchen.
Then came the terrible and miserable year when my mother and grandmother died less than two months apart. Among all the sadness of that time, I barely noticed that I had gone from owning next to nothing to having lots of home furnishings, most of which are still in our home to this day, including everything from sofas and chests to linens with their monograms.
In retrospect, this must have been the beginning.
Anna Quindlin has long been among my favorites writers. She is my generation, a Baby Boomer, and I have followed her career from afar as she moved from staff editorial writer at the New York Times to its youngest columnist and, as children entered her life, on to essayist and novelist. She continues to strike me as a person of both great good sense and an open and welcoming heart. That is no doubt the reason that when I saw Quindlin’s latest book, Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake, excerpted in Parade magazine, I sat right down and read it.
Anna and I have a lot in common.
She, too, has way too much stuff.
It is impossible to say when it first began, but I do remember thinking to myself when the Precious Jewels were young that they certainly had a lot of toys that had a lot of parts. There is nothing quite like stepping on a Lego barefooted in the middle of the night to remind one of that. There were bikes, balls, books, sports gear, homework, beloved items, all of which seemed to be “lost” when someone was looking for them. There were zillions of T-shirts with different logos and sports teams emblazoned on them. There were drawers of clothes that were handed down, most of which hung around even when no one could fit into them anymore.
The Precious Jewels were hardly the only culprits.
While they were growing up, I must have been acquiring 24/7. My kitchen is full of pots and pans, utensils, appliances and gadgets of all sorts that I must have thought necessary at some point. In a little used cabinet, I recently found a crock pot and an ice cream maker, which have not seen the light of day in years. There is the “good” china which, as opposed to the “everyday,” is practically virginal but still here. And, clothes, oh my word!
My closet is filled with items I have not worn in years but still find “too good to throw away.” Some have been in style, gone out of style, and are back again. Some, if they were human beings, could register to vote. I still wear the same items over and over again, though, mostly black and white with a dash of color somewhere. In her book, Anna confesses to owning 18 pairs of black pants. I have not counted and probably would not tell if I did. Last year, I forgot I had an electric leaf blower for the front deck so I bought another one.
Sometimes I feel like every possession has had at least three children itself!
Some of this stuff is dear and precious to me, and I have thought about what I would save fi rst if I had to leave to escape disaster. The family photo albums, all 25 of them. The Precious Jewels’ baby teeth even though I have no idea which ones belonged to whom. The folder of household important documents, if I were thinking straight enough to remember it.
Beyond those, though, possessions do not matter as much as I must have thought they did. Many have been useful and many bring back fond memories, but those memories are in my head whether the material objects exist or not.
Several years ago, a beloved aunt now closing in on her 96th birthday asked me about old friends she missed. I told her that the husband was well but that the wife had died. She made no comment, and I realized that she still had a relationship with her friends in her mind no matter what, which is pretty much how I feel about most of the things I have accumulated over an active and busy lifetime.
I am grateful for what I have had but I have learned that everything is temporal except what is in our heads — the joys, the sorrows and everything in between.
Thanks, Anna, for the reminder.
Photo: Things clutter up our lives, but they keep memories alive.