Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An Analysis of Stuff (Part 3 of 3)

As I finish my journey through my mother's treasures, I am planning my next mission.  I plan to very strategically go through all of my saved items and cull out all but the items which communicate who, exactly, I am.  Like an archaeological dig, my attic will be laid out in organized plats which, when woven together, will tell the story of my life.  I have come to believe that the Egyptians were simply hoarders.  Their pyramids were, plainly speaking, gargantuan storage units filled with the things with which the deceased could not bear to part and for which the descendants had absolutely no use.  The same theory will most likely apply to the meticulously marked Rubbermaid bins lined up like columns and rows of  protective soldiers which, as I think about it, are sitting in attic silence about 14 feet over my head this very minute.  I must be very thoughtful about the things I choose to explain the meaning of my existence on the planet.  Because I have chosen to be cremated after I breathe my last breath, it would only be appropriate that my sons would burn the leftovers from the sale of my estate.

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen step right this way!  
Roll out for the Magical Mystery Tour of my humble attic.
[Cue music]
(Yes, I still have the album.)

The east half of said attic is dedicated to holiday decor.  Inasmuch as it occupies 50% of the available storage space, my love of all holidays will be plain as the nose on an archeologist's face.  He may thrill at the discovery of decorations for as many as five themed Christmas trees.  If three of the five themed sets of ornaments are still in my attic and my boys are happily married, the significance of their eternal presence will be that my daughter-in-laws have either no taste  whatsoever or absolutely no sentimental bones in their skinny bodies.  According to my plan, Jonathan's wife will cherish and continue to add Coca Cola ornaments to his tree.  Bryce's wife will dutifully oooh and aaah as she carefully unwraps each of his Old World glass ornaments:  the peacock, the White House, the Dobermann Pinscher.  Reed's better half will be humming "Let it Snow" as she strategically places each snow man on their family tree.  What lucky girls!

Thanks, Aunt Mamie!
A portion of the attic is filled with inherited sets of china, a big old hot mess of milk glass (I'm guessing about 2 tons) thanks to my Aunt Mamie, and sundry mementos from the 70's and 80's.  (BTW:  If you ever need to borrow a beach ball sized milk glass punch bowl on a pedestal and 20 matching punch cups, I'm your girl.)

"I know you are, but what am I?!"
Then, there's the plethora of boxes of toys that my boys fought over during their precious formative years:  Power Rangers, legos, K'Nex, Playmobil...  In one medium-sized box, a very special set of figures slumbers in their very special playhouse for the day when their ebay numbers are up.  OK, boys and girls!  Today's Secret Word is "ka-ching!"  Yep.  Chairry, Globey, and Pterri are all mummified in tissue paper waiting for the day when someone unwraps them and gasps, "Ooooooooo!  Isn't Pee Wee the guy who...?"  Just wait until they come across Plush Chairry and Plush Talking Pee Wee!  What a glorious day it will be!

There are a few individual items that I have held close to my heart for years.  They are some of my most prized possessions.  You can have all of my best dish towels, my Grandmother's Friendly Village pottery, and my old drill team boots.  My cold dead fingers will be wrapped tightly around a few little things with which I can never part.  And, I present to you (in no particular order)....a few treasures of my motherheart.

Bryce's Whittle Sticks 
(carved in Estes Park, Colorado at Castle Mountain Lodge)
We first introduced Bryce to Estes Park when he was a toddler bouncing up and down in our kid-carrier backpack.  By the age of 4, he was hiking up to four miles without a single whine or complaint.  In fact, our four miles equaled his seven miles given the many detours up and around boulders and side trails leading to nowhere.  Back at the cabin, he would busy himself searching for "good" whittle sticks.  Then, he meticulously carved them with his mouth pursed in intense concentration.  He gave some of the sticks sharpish points that could "kiw da bad guys."  Some he just whittled smooth for the sake of the whittle.  The prize of the collection was the "Tommy Hawk" that he made just for me.  "Hew, Mom.  Dis might come in weal handy someday!  And, guess what?!  When we get home, I'm gonna paint it up real special for you."  That was the same trip that ended with his famous family quote.  We had finished loading up the minivan and strolled down to the river to throw one more rock into the dancing waters.  Bryce stood there on a boulder staring at his beloved play place then looked up at Alan and said, "Dad, I shu wish we could staya liddle longa."  Alan and I have vowed that if we ever own a cabin in Estes Park it will be adorned with a special little whittled sign dubbing our hideaway the "Staya Liddle Longa."

Reed's Dinothore
Reed came home from First Grade one day and dropped his schoolwork on the kitchen table.  Off he trotted in search of his brothers.  Later, he peered at me from the other side of the island by the sink where I was washing dishes.  
"So, Mom, how did you like Gary?!"  
Absently, I replied, "Who, baby?"  
"Gary!  He's my dinothore!"  
"Oh, I see!  Gary is a great dinosaur!  The very best dinosaur!  You are lucky to have Gary!"  
Off Reed trotted smiling his trademark happy smile.  As I began to clear the table for dinner, I picked up Reed's schoolwork.  Amongst his spelling and math papers was a crinkly crayloa resist picture of a flamboyant, frisky looking dinosaur.  There at the top of the paper in the field of blue that surrounded the creature just above it's back haunch written faintly in pencil - Gary.  Hmm.  Gary.  To this day, the joyful colors of Gary remind me of my carefree, grinning Reed.

Jonathan's "E-Boo" Cup
To celebrate Jonathan's 2nd Birthday, we ventured out to the Greatest Show on Earth.  We bought "center ring" seats about 5 rows up from the lions, tigers and bears, dressed Jonathan up in his Mimi-made "cwown" costume, and off we went.  Two hours later after death defying feats, clown antics, and brilliant costumes, we headed back to our little house in Mesquite with Jonathan fast asleep in his car seat still clutching a light-up Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey sword and a tiger cup.  The next day at breakfast, Jonathan shook his head "NO!" to his run-of-the-mill sippy cup.  "I WANT MY E-BOO CUP!!!  GIVE ME MY E-BOO CUP!!!"  Unnerved, I began to hold up sippy cups in all colors trying to figure out which color word sounded most like "E-Boo." Purple?  Green?  At last I looked in the direction of his resolutely pointing finger.  There on the drainboard next to the sink it sat.  I picked the cup up by its tiger tail, turned to him, and asked, "E-Boo?"  "E-BOOOOO!!!"  Oh, now I see.  The "E-Boo" cup.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An Analysis of Stuff (Part 2 of as Many as it Takes)

I've been considering performing a longitudinal study involving women who have saved Homecoming mums for more than, say, 10 years.  Theory:  The longer a thing is kept, the harder it is to get rid of.  I will take note of the number of years that said mum(s) has been kept, means of storage, significance of the bestower of the mum, and overall hoarding habits of the keeper of the mum.  My assumption is that no matter the significance of the bestower or tendencies to hoard mementos of special occasions, a thing that has been kept for as many as 10 years will be harder than the dickens to chunk.

I can go through my dish towel drawer in a quick minute and cull out all of the towels that I would never use in front of company.  Sorting through my mom's dish towels which have been meticulously stored in categories (some of which date back to the early 70's) is a whole other subject.  My mother has very specific uses for very specific dish towels.  The cotton blue and white striped towels are for every day use including drying dishes and perhaps a wet, but clean, counter.  The pink and white Williams-Sonoma dish towels are meant to be used only during visits from neighbors, birthday parties, or holiday dinners (except those holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which have their own holiday-themed dish towels).    NEVER, EVER is a dish towel used to wipe up coffee spilled on a counter or honey dripped on the floor.  EVER.  That is what paper towels are for.  Dish towels are never to come in contact with any substance which will cause staining or any surface as nasty as a floor.  Therefore, the majority of my mom's dish towels are as pristine as the day they were woven.  Her influence has controlled my dish towel conscience for the majority of my adult life.  My neighbor gave me some navy and white checked dish towels one Christmas with a very subtle snowflake pattern which, technically, places them squarely in the "holiday" category.  Generally, all of my holiday dish towels are packed away with the corresponding holiday decor at the end of that holiday season.  One year, I was running low on socially acceptable dish towels.  My hand almost shook as I retrieved the navy and white snowflake towels from the box clearly labeled "Christmas:  Kitchen Decor."  Relegating those towels to everyday use was all at once unnerving, liberating, and exhilarating.

My mother's meticulous storage and labeling systems seem to have inflated the actual value of very simple things.  Below, I have listed some examples.  
The Skateboarder
  1. At least 100 samples of her students' art collected over the years that she taught 6th grade art.  Mom had several boxes of crayon drawings that were "SOOO good!"  Within some of the boxes, the art pieces were categorized and labeled:  "Crayola Resist," "Positive and Negative Space," "Self-Portraits."  My favorite pictures, many of which had captions, were from the "A Trip to the Dentist" folder.  "Stop it!  Your herting me!"  There were other boxes containing delicately wrapped samples of "Egg Sculptures" (little people with blown out eggshell heads).  How on earth can one dispose of a 20-year-old sculpture of Egg-headed Elvis crooning into a mike?  On a table in my sunroom there now lives a paper mache skateboarder that looks very similar to my oldest child during his junior high skateboarding days. 
  2. Boxes and boxes of old Better Homes and Gardens magazines.  These may well enter the Antiques Roadshow Hall of Fame due to the numerous Post-It notes that peek out from every issue announcing things like "Cute Kitchen!!!," "Great Storage Ideas," and "Love the Colors of this Bedroom!" in my mother's scratchy handwriting.  Looking through those pages was like a walk down a path lined with Mom's fanciful ideas about creating the perfect home for her family.  Oh, how I wish I could have had that celadon green girl's room with brown, mustard and green mod bedding!  Flower power was the grooviest!
  3. Every letter my grandfather, Lem Cary Williams (aka "the sweetest man who ever lived" according to my mother), wrote to my mother over her lifetime.  Some of the notes are quick missives jotted down to let my mother know that "everyone is feeling much better."  Some are instructions:  "Here is $5.  Use it towards your rent."  What makes these letters priceless?  Two words at the bottom of each.  "Love, Dad."
I will close this installment of my ruminations with a few photo examples of items which have migrated from Waco's 2709 Rockview all the way to 84th St in Lubbock for time immemorial or until my children stuff them in lawn and leaf trash bags while emptying our "estate."

Set of 8 Cocktail Napkins
(with a stencil designed by my mom)
and hand-stitched by my mom

(I'm still trying to figure out how
she was going to fold them.)

Christmas Card Stencil
Mom hand-carved this stencil for their Christmas card
during one of the first years of my parents' marriage.
Check out their names on the left side..."Helen & Dobo"
(My dad was nicknamed "Dobo" by his parents.)

The Piece de Resistance
The hotel key and receipt for $8 from Hotel Beaumont
where my parents spent their wedding night
(dubbed "Our Honeymoon" by my mother)  

Friday, September 3, 2010

An Analysis of Stuff (Part 1 of as Many as it Takes)

Ahhhhhh.  So smooth.  So sleek.  So dang clean.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about "stuff" lately.  Not "stuff" as in random thoughts that don't add up to much, or "stuff" as in general activities that don't merit specification.  "What are you thinking about Alan?"  "Oh, just stuff."  "Reed, what have you been doing today."  "Oh, just stuff."  I'm talking about "stuff" as it pertains to the things that we own or keep on hand.  I really couldn't say that I own a bag of Cheetos, but from time to time, I might keep one on hand.  I come from a family of Stuff People.  We love our stuff.  I'm trying to figure out  how we became Stuff People and not, say, Minimalists.  When did we develop the need to surround ourselves with odds, ends, this, that, and the other.  Was it genetics or environment?  We have attics full of stuff.  Our closets overflow with stuff.  When I look at pictures of  minimalist home designs in magazines, I feel a twinge of envy as well as a pang of guilt.  Minimalism will never be a possibility for the likes of me.

A brief analysis of the "stuff" I actually keep on hand led to the thought that I have stuff that I use and stuff that I look at.  I use my vacuum cleaner.  I look at the centerpiece on my dining table.  I would definitely choose my vacuum cleaner over my centerpiece if someone put a gun to my head.  If someone came to my door and said, "You have 2 minutes to give us an item that is somewhere in plain sight in your home," I would run through the house eliminating all possibilities.  "I use that!"  "I like to look at that!"  "My mother gave me that!"  "I've always had that!"  

I went so far as to break the two categories of stuff ("use" vs "look at") into subcategories:  "every day," "sometimes," "never," and "never ever ever evvvvvvvvvver. " Strangely, I could come up with items that fall squarely in the "never ever ever evvvvvvvvvver" category and justify their existence in my permanent collection of things I can't seem to live without.  Case in point:  the huge tub of legos in a back corner of the attic underneath a pile of old luggage that the boys played with when they were little (the legos...not the luggage).  I've tried to convince myself to give them to some nonprofit childcare program or some mom with 3 little boys.  But, when it comes right down to it, those legos are a part of my motherheart.  I have visions of grandsons building castles and bridges and giant towers with them on long summer afternoons at Mimi's (the grandmother name that I have already chosen for myself).  

I've also tried to come up with some algebraic equation with which I can determine when I have become a borderline hoarder.  My mother was very, very sure that she needed to take 5 sets of sheets for her bed in her one bedroom 906 SF apartment at Raider Ranch.  Housekeeping changes her sheets once a week.  My math equates her need to be 2 sets:  one on the bed and one in the wash.  Her equation factors in having enough sheet sets to last her for the rest of her natural born days.  [83 years old + 10 years] divided by # of washings = 3 more sets of sheets than a 53 year old would ever need.  "Why not keep the sheets (that she's had for YEARS) instead of having to go out and buy new ones?"  So, she now has 5 sets of sheets - one set on the bed and 4 sets crammed into her bedroom closet which also houses all of her clothes, her shoes, holiday decorations (don't even get me started), and a small dresser with all of her "office supplies" (scissors, tape, glue, notepads, notecards, paperclips, envelopes...).  Oh, and a small resin pink, blue and yellow carousel that "still plays music."

At 2709 Rockview in Waco, she had a cute little 3 bedroom home which housed one person.  All of the closets were crammed full of stuff.  She would make a bit of space in the closet for our hanging clothes when we came to visit, but we never even dreamed of trying to stow our luggage in there.  Oh, no!  There was absolutely no room to fit it on the floor because of the blue dresser (containing old dress patterns, piles of fabric, rickrack, zippers, and old shirts for hiking or working in the yard - summer & winter) that was squeezed into the left side of the closet, the bookshelf (containing old college textbooks, science books from her teaching days, and books like The Cross & the Switchblade and I Ain't Much Baby But I'm All I've Got) that sat just under her out of season blouses and jackets next to yet another bookcase (that came with the 1962 set of encyclopedias that she kept just in case she ever needed to "look something up"), the Kirby vacuum cleaner with it's 22 attachments, a one-armed, bald little boy mannequin, groovy floral slumber party sleeping bags from the early 70's, 10 extra pillows (some with questionable stains), and a 1950's Singer sewing machine.  I haven't even mentioned the things that were stacked on top of the blue dresser and on the shelves above the hanging rod.  She would have probably scored pretty low on the hoarder scale due to the fact that all "like items" on the shelves were tucked neatly away into xerox paper boxes (collected from the teacher's lounge when she taught school) and labeled neatly:  "Easter,"  "Kathy," "Carolyn," "Kirk," "Cards from Friends."
Plastic tubs from Target could legitimize all of these treasures.
If all of her collected items were amassed in waist high helter skelter piles, she would be called a hoarder.  However, meticulous organization elevates these things to a new level of "need this."  Disposing of a box full of 8 1/2 X 11 brown envelopes labeled "Christmas Cards from Carolyn's Friends,"  "My 70th BD Cards," "Interesting Articles" and "Good Household Tips" seems to be both irreverent and disrespectful.  Which leads me to a whole other subcategory of stuff:  "Stuff I've Had So Long I Hate To Get Rid of It Now."

Many are the times over the years when I begged Mom to let me help her "go through" the things in her closets.  
Mom:  "Oh, no!  It's all organized!  Everything is exactly where I want it to be!"
Me:  "But, Mom, don't you think that it would be OK to get rid of about 50 pounds of cute fabric that you thought would make cute pantsuits back in the '80s?"
Mom:  "You never know when that fabric might come back in style!"
Me:  "Mom, you're legally blind.  How on earth are you going to thread your sewing machine much less a needle?"
Mom:  "I don't know, but if I need to thread my sewing machine or a needle, I'll just have to figure it out."
Me:  "What about the encyclopedias?
Mom:  "I told you!  Sometimes, I like to look up things!"
Me:  "But, some of those countries don't exist anymore.  And, the space program has really advanced since 1962."
Mom:  "I know, I know. But, still."

To be continued with photographic proof and examples...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Baylor Move-In Day

On a very hot, muggy August morning, the heavy oppressive kind of hot and muggy that induces lethargy and irritability, a mother and father rode silently in their silver Suburban whose back window still bore the telltale stickers of the hometown high school left behind. The mother flipped nervously through the binder in her lap. She had spent the summer carefully hole-punching and filing important information under all the appropriate tabs. The “Housing/Dining” tab tucked away all the crucial particulars of living on campus. She quickly reviewed and double-checked each detail for the 5th time that morning. Room assignment? Check! Micro/fridge rental info? Check! Meal plan selection? Check! Every few seconds she glanced up from her paperwork to make sure that her husband was still on the right route despite his years of experience in making this trip. “It says that we’re supposed exit on University Parks NOT on 5th Street,” she reminded. He replied with a roll of his eyes. “His assigned move in time is 9:30, and it’s 9:27 now!” Again, the eye roll.

The parents’ hearts were full of conflicting emotions…joy, sadness, fear of the unknown and the gentle peace, which came with the known. They were taking their son to their own Alma Mater, Baylor University. The 3rd seat of their SUV had been removed just the day before so that the vehicle could be packed by the father and son and then strategically repacked by the mother full to the ceiling with “dorm stuff” and the mother-recommended “just in case items” necessary to keep one 18 year old male child alive and well for 9 months of new found freedom and independence. Their son followed closely behind them in his Jeep Cherokee that was likewise strategically filled with “dorm stuff.” Although his face bore that all too familiar teenage look of confidence and coolness that comes with knowing everything one could possibly ever want or need to know in a lifetime, deep down inside, the boy was longing for the safety of home, watching The Simpsons with his dad and brothers, and feasting upon his mother’s homemade chicken enchiladas. As they pulled onto University Parks Drive, their path was marked with signs donned with clusters of green and gold balloons, which simply shouted, “Welcome Baylor Students!” “Dorm Move-In This Way!” A little further down, the signs became more specific. “North Village” with an arrow pointing to the right. “Penland” with an arrow pointing forward. “Keep going straight,” the mother barked, “they are taking us the long way around!” The directions given by the signs seemed counter intuitive to both of the parents particularly the father. For he, himself was quite familiar with the destination they were seeking because it had only been 31 short years before as the nation celebrated its Bicentennial that he had made the exact same journey. The déjà vu he was feeling tugged at the steering wheel willing the caravan to veer onto the more direct path. However, he continued to obediently follow the signs. The balloons. The mother’s anxious directives.

The signs led them on a meandering course that took them down Bagby where the Golden Wave Band was practicing marching formations to the cadence of the drumline. The pounding of the drums rang familiar in the parents’ ears. “Isn’t that the field that had the hollow tree?” reminisced the father. “Yes,” sighed the mother remembering the scavenger hunt he planned for her all those years ago and the thrill of finding him in that hollow tree. The laughter. The sweet kisses. Lost in their own thoughts, they absently followed the procession down Bagby to the checkpoint at 5th Street. Along the way, they were cheerfully greeted and ushered by volunteers sporting camoflage “Move-In Crew” t-shirts. Feeling like dignitaries in some sort of parade, they turned on 5th Street and approached its barricaded entrance to the campus, where there stood a lady with a yellow window marker and an official looking clipboard. Using the universally understood roll-down-the-window hand signal, she stepped close to their vehicle and leaned down to the window. “What dorm are you heading for?!,” she sang out as if she was one of their long lost, best friends or a forgotten distant relative. The mother leaning across the Suburban’s console, which is the universal secret sign for “I’m in charge here” answered, “We…and the white Jeep Cherokee behind us are heading to Penland.” “What’s that room number?” Quickly pulling out the official Move-In Day schedule, the mother double-checked the number and replied in a voice that was unnecessarily loud and clear, “That would be Penland, Room 217.” “Penland 217!” the lady chirped as she quickly marked the windshield with some sort of carwash type code. “Just follow the directions of the Move-In Crew, and WELCOME TO BAYLOR!!” With a quick “aye-aye captain” they were on their way passing through the barricades smack dab onto the very street on which cars were normally declared verboten that boldly stretched through the heart of the campus.

Smiling and waving and squinting to decipher the hieroglyphic code on the windshield of the parents’ car, the Move-In Crew directed their path. Inching forward in the line of cars, the apprehensive parents could see that some of the cars ahead of them were guided alongside the Sub toward Brooks Hall and Collins while the rest continued forward toward Penland and Martin. As their Suburban neared Penland Hall, they began to hear rock music pulsing from huge speakers festooned with green and gold signs of welcome set up on the front lawn of the dorm. Balloons, balloons, balloons! Music, music, music! The carnival atmosphere began to seep into the couple’s veins soothing their anxious hearts.  Any apprehensions they felt at the thought of moving their child the long 5 ½ hours from home began to melt into excitement for their son as memories of  crazy dorm pranks flooded their heads. In unison they absently began to nod their heads to the beat of the song that filled the air around them. After a long summer of organized, systematic, thorough preparation, the mother began to relax. She began to smile.

The last turn brought them along the west side of the dorm where they waited their turn to stop next to a set of double doors. Minutes later when their turn came, the doors burst open and out ran about 10 Move-In Crew Members clapping, singing and chanting welcomes to the line of cars. With a quick glance at the windshield’s Move-In code and a hearty shout of “217!” like a swarm of grasshoppers, they descended upon the Suburban yelling, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaye…Sic ‘Em Bears!” Doors were opening! Commands were shouted! “Careful, the laptop is in this box!” “Hey! I need help with this clothes rod!” The commotion that followed can only be described in this way: Wooosh, wooosh, wooosh, woooooosh! Like a pig on a spit, the clothes rod full of neatly hung t-shirts and jeans was born off on the shoulders of 2 tall crew members. Boxes of towels were flying! The laundry basket full of never-to-be-used laundry soap and drier sheets simply danced towards the open doors! A glance in the rear view mirror revealed an empty Suburban picked clean by the Crew. In the distance the voices of the chanting students echoed away up the stairwell to Penland Room 217 along with the freshman’s 2 SUV loads of belongings. Then, Silence.

In the wink of an eye it was done. Just like that…WOOSH!...followed by…silence. Silence quickly broken by the cadence of the rock music. Then, the trilling voice of a cute co-ed directed the parents to follow the signs which would lead them to a very remote parking lot where they could then take a shuttle back the dorm to unpack the child’s belongings and help him set up camp. They slowly pulled away resuming their head bobs to the beat of the music. Just like that. The son and all of his worldly possessions had been wooshed away to what would become his home during his freshman year at Baylor University. Then silence. Followed by head bobs. Just like that. Goodbye Mom and Dad. Time to move on.

Free at last!  Free at last!  Free at last!


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...