Sunday, December 28, 2014

Not Zen 142: Hoarding

"She gave me another 'Best Granddad' mug. That was sweet." He flipped it out of the box.

"Do you like it?" 

Morning light glowed through the kitchen window. It was their first day home after the holiday. He was glad to be back. The first thing he'd done on his arrival was stoke the furnace and turn up the heat. He'd brewed coffee, too, which she poured into their usual cups. While she sipped, she heated oatmeal, enough for them both. She stirred in brown sugar, raisins, nuts, and berries.

He slid the gift mug onto the table. 

"It's got a nice color." She eyed the canary yellow glaze from her spot in front of the stove. "It's not too tall for the cabinet shelf. But you don't use the 'Best Granddad' mug from last year."

He shook his head. "Nah, it's a weird shape. I'll never do anything with it. We've got too many mugs already. We can barely close the cabinet door. Put it in storage."

"You're not going to use it even once?" She kept stirring.

"I've got too many of these." He tossed the gift box into the trash.

"Why don't you throw it out?" She tapped her wooden spoon on the side of the saucepan to knock off sticky flakes of oatmeal. "Give it to someone who wants it. We've got enough mementos."

"Who would want it as much as I do?" He threw up his arms the way he did when he felt she'd said something crazy. "It was a gift to me, personally. That's why I want to keep it."

"But you only want to keep it out of sight."

"Put it in the attic like you used to do with my old thank you cards, souvenir glasses, sweaters, ornaments, and stuff like that."

"Ha." She resumed her stirring. "You never wore a sweater in your life."

"No, but I got some as gifts. I think your paste jewelry is up there, too, right? A lot of the stuff we got that was junk because we were poor went up to the attic. It was all sentimental stuff. I saw you pack up a lot."

Her gaze drifted from the stove, across the kitchen, to the hall outside the foyer. There lay the door to the attic stairs. She grimaced. The oatmeal bubbled next to her hand. That caught her attention. She tapped the rising surface with the wooden spoon. Then she grabbed the measuring cup of water next to her and poured in a splash more. As she stirred, she nodded in the direction of the high cabinet.

He followed her gesture and rose. He reached up into the cabinet and pulled down two pottery bowls, one green, one blue. He set them down next to his wife. They stood, side by side. She turned off the stove.

"Honey," she said quietly, still stirring "why do you want to keep the mug if you know you'll never set eyes on it again?"

"You keep trying to talk me out of it."

"There's only so much room in the house." She raised her eyebrow. He pushed the bowls to the edge of the stove. She raised the saucepan by the handle and began to pour. "What makes this worth keeping?"

"That my grand-daughter gave it to me. Nothing else." He pulled away the first bowl when she was done with it.

"So the gift is useless except that you associate it with someone you love." She emptied the pot. She started to set it down, spotted a few nuts and berries stuck to the bottom, and scraped them out into the blue bowl.

"Yes." He picked up both bowls. Quickly, because they were warm, he transported them to the kitchen table. "Yes, it's exactly that."

"You keep saying that we need to prune out our useless possessions, that we shouldn't be attached to them."

He sighed. He knew more conversation was coming. "I know I do."

"I've seen you throw out any number of other things. Just not gifts."

"You don't have to put it like that." He strode to the flatware drawer. His hand found the spoons. "Or maybe you do. It's true enough. I let go of everything else. But I don't like to see gifts thrown out."

"You don't even look at them. Honestly, you hardly ever go into the attic. You certainly never open the boxes there."

He cocked his head to one side. A moment later, he laughed.

"No, I don't." He pushed a spoon toward his wife. The other, he kept as he took a seat. "Who wants to look at crappy knickknacks a second time? It's enough to think about the people who gave them to us. That's what's important."

"You like to contemplate the affection. Got it." She took her seat. She glanced at the 'Best Granddad' mug between them. He blew the steam off of his first spoonful. She felt the breeze. "So it's okay for me to put this where I put the others. You don't care if you see it again."

"Sure. I mean, if you've got the energy to go up there." He tested his first portion. It wasn't too hot. He took a bite and spoke with his mouth full. "If not, I'll find another space."

She took a minute to let her breakfast cool. When it was ready, she took a few bites in silence. He scooped up half of his share in that time, a dozen mouthfuls. 

"Honey," she announced. She put down her spoon. "I cleaned out the attic twenty years ago."

It took him a moment to understand. He blinked.

"Even the cheap jewelry?"

"Everything. I love you, honey." She reached across the table and put her right hand over his left. "I like to think about how hard we both worked in those days so we could have a few trinkets. But it's done. I don't need them."

Slowly, he nodded. Then a thought came to him. "The broken ornaments from my grandmother?"

"Listen to yourself. They were broken." She tightened her grip. "When I cleaned them out, I did it with a hand broom so I wouldn't cut myself on the shards. And you still remember her the same way."

"Yeah. Okay." He gave her hand a squeeze and let go for a moment. He grabbed his coffee cup to take a drink. "I may pretend that this mug is in the attic, though. When I talk to the kids and such."


He put his glass down. He rubbed his chin.

"I'll still think about it," he announced, "when I see my grand-daughter."



  1. Liked this a lot. Sounds like my parents. Funny though, it made me happy to go through all those things I had given them and to know that they had become precious to them. I too have broken Christmas lights...I'm not sure if it is to hold on to a memory or so that I can keep recalling that memory. It's hard not to hold onto thing from those you love or care about...finding the balance is the key maybe?

  2. Some things are useful as a trigger to memories, no doubt about it. As you say, finding the right balance in what to keep around is the key.

    Also, friends help with memories. And they can help you move stuff or throw it out when it's time.