Thursday, February 18, 2016

...the dark and light at the same time...

 (the title of this post is excerpted from "End of Winter" by Louise Gluck)

by Liz Flaherty

We have lots of stuff. After 45 years of marriage, who doesn’t? Usually when winter begins its wind-down, I’ll start thinning out. I’ll have a trash bag in each room half full of things that are too small or not liked anymore or that were a dreadful mistake to begin with. It’s when I’ll start exercising again, too, speaking of thinning out, and get my eating under some semblance of control.

Some of the things we have in this cache of stuff are treasured parts of our family histories. We have a few religious prints Duane’s mom has given us, her first rosary, my mother’s old treadle sewing machine I learned to sew on. I have a couple of teapots from my mother-in-law’s collection and a stack of plates—I think there are five or seven, an odd number; I wonder who broke one—that have been in my family 100 years.

But there’s been illness in my extended family lately. Not only the recurring and lingering flu-like malady of the season, but open heart surgeries and deadly infections that have us walking hospital halls with disquiet nipping at our heels. What if he doesn’t come out of it? What if she never wakes up again?

 “Eat this. It will make Kay (my sister-in-law who is a nurse) happy,” I told my mother-in-law the other day, trying to tempt her nonexistent appetite.

Mom gave me the stink-eye—you’ve all seen that; it’s a job requirement of being a mother. “Then let her eat it.” I snorted laughter and Mom's grin was fabulously wicked.

It was then that I was reminded. That stuff doesn’t matter. What matters is the sharing of time. Of memories. Of laughter and wicked grins.

Hopefully all the family members will be well as winter comes to its end. I’ll have my garbage bags out soon, but as long as there are more things to laugh about, more memories to share, more time, I don’t really care if I fill them or not.

by Helen DePrima

I disagree with T.S. Eliot. April isn’t the cruelest month – February is. The holidays are a fading memory, New Year’s resolutions have largely gone by the board, and even the earliest planting of peas and spinach is a good month in the future. Here in New Hampshire we have our biggest snowstorms and bitterest cold in February, a boon to skiers but just plain wearisome to those of us whose winter sports are shoveling out and carrying in wood for the stove.

         February is a great time to attack closets and shelves, to decide which are treasures and which are only possessions. Extra jackets, mittens and caps fly out of the hall closet to thrift stores and shelters for those who need them more than I do; books I know I won’t re-read find new homes where they’ll be appreciated. Duplicate household items go to the local charity for veterans furnishing homes, sometimes in transition from living on the streets.

         And still I feel weighed down with stuff, much of it brought from my grandparents’ farm in Kentucky, links to my childhood home gobbled up by Interstate expansion. I’m not quite ready to start parceling out mementos to nieces and cousins who still recall the white clapboard house among towering maples and oaks, the shadowy barn with horses stamping in box stalls below a huge hayloft, and my uncles’ vegetable garden that fed the whole family. I do like thinking who in the family might enjoy the lithograph of Old Rosebud, the only Louisville horse to win the Derby, and who should get the wall clock taken from a closed-down Louisville & Nashville railway station in Tennessee.

  
       And all the while weaving memories into my writing – a turn of phrase in Southern voices, the scent of new hay in the loft, the feel of fresh-turned soil under bare feet in the spring, treasures I can share with readers I’ll never meet.

26 comments:

  1. Liz, I am sending happy, healing thoughts to your ailing loved ones.

    Why is it that, after reading your posts, I have an urge to clean out some closets?!

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    1. This post was Helen's idea, and I must admit it puts me in closet-clearing mode, too. Thanks for the good thoughts, Kate.

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  2. My thoughts and prayers are with your family, Liz. Both of you are so right, the stuff doesn't matter and often it will bury what does.
    Now I feel like cleaning too!

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    1. Thanks, Jill. You're right--the important things can get buried way too easily.

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  3. Thank you for a lovely post so beautifully written. It stirred many shared memories for me. Hope all your family’s health problems are gone by spring.

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    1. Thank you, Marion. I hope so, too. Memories, even ones that hurt some, can be such a gift.

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  4. I agree that February is a hard month in the North,which is why we now spend it in Arizona instead of Alaska. Sunshine in February, who knew? I've been successfully ignoring the excess stuff for decades, but I really need to start purging. Sending warmest wishes for health and healing for all your family.

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    1. Thank you. I think I've always purged, but unfortunately I also "add to," it never looks as though I have!

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    3. Moving every few years is a great way to keep accumulations down to a reasonable level, but we've lived in the same house since 1973. I should know better -- I had to clean out my aunt's house of 70 years family possessions;instead I brought a truckload to New Hampshire.

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    4. I would cheerfully commit murder (and still may) to spend winter in a milder climate, but my husband would worry himself sick about the well-being of the house. My solution: if the temp drops below 20, I don't stick my nose outside except to take our dog for a quick tour of her plowed potty path.
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    5. My husband is the same way, Helen. We spent two winters in Florida, which was fun, but Duane worried about the house the whole time. Fortunately for me, I don't mind winter.

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  5. Good thoughts to everyone, Liz, especially you. Never easy to watch things happening around you. :( But yes, memories of all the good times definitely sustain. <3

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  6. Why does reading about someone else's spring cleaning make us want to do our own? But I shall resist! Liz, I hope your folks are doing well now. And Helen, I totally understand bringing a truckload of memories home. And I wish you both were here to spend a Mississippi Winter where if you don't like the weather, give it a couple of hours and it'll change.

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    1. Lol. We have that same weather phenomenon here in Indiana!

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    2. Hi Patricia -- sure wish I could be in Mississippi, or anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon. I was born and raised a Southern girl even though we did get occasional snow in Kentucky. Three-quarters of the year the New Hampshire climate is heavenly so I just grit my teeth and think of my garden during the bitter months.

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  7. Liz and Helen - what a sweet, nostalgic post. Will add your MIL to my prayer list, Liz. It's too bad that things have to change, but they do. I keep trying to think ahead instead of remembering, but most of my memories are so precious I refuse to leave them behind - as you say - even if it hurts. You all have to winter in Oregon, where you still get the seasonal shift, but very little snow. You have to deal with rain, but you just surround yourself with friends and you don't notice the damp, raw days. Fortunately, you haven't made ME want to clean.

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    1. Yeah, I lost that urge pretty quickly, too. :-)

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    2. Hi Muriel -- every year I resolve to clean out one space a week, a closet or dresser. That usually lasts about as long as the diet and exercise. Even so, I do suffer sporadic attacks that result mostly in shifting items from one location to another with no net reduction.

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  8. Ms. Liz, I hope your mother-in-law and other family members are getting better. There's been quite a bit of sickness surrounding me too so I'm trying hard to focus on treasuring memories as well.
    Okay, I'm guilty of allowing things I probably won't ever use to stay in closets in various rooms of my house. My husband has a week off at the end of this month, and I'll tell myself that I'll start getting rid of things. But then we get so happy having more time together that it gets delayed again (usually because of me). And for the life of me, I can't part with books that I probably will never read again. If they were really good I just can't let them go. One day probably, but not yet.

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  9. I have to keep them for a while, too, Laurie, although I love it when just the right person needs a sackful of good reading!

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  10. Hi Laurie -- I've come up with a solution for books I've loved in the past but won't likely read again. I have a large collection of books on sailing from the years I sailed my own little boat and crewed for others. I'm passing them on to folks whom I know will love them as I did and am doing the same with my numerous quilting books although I still quilt occasionally.

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  11. What fortuitous timing for this post, Ladies! My husband and I are undertaking a major project of trying to part with belongings from a precious loved one we lost a couple years ago. Who should get what? Who wants this or that? (Yes, it's taken us this long to even begin. The loss was so painful.) Your post inspires me though, because really the memories are the true treasures!

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    1. Hugs to you and your husband, Carol--I don't think it ever gets easy.

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    2. Hi Carol -- I found while dismantling the old family home that distributing mementos to friends and family who will equally treasure them helped dilute the sadness, a way of passing on the both memories and traditions. I pictured how pleased my aunt would have been to see this cousin or that friend enjoying and caring for the things that meant so much to her.

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