I always used to wonder why older people, particularly, clung so stubbornly to that tattered old chair, that rickety old coffee table, that sweater with the holes all over it. I wondered until I found myself one of them. When I moved from my home in Northern Wisconsin to this very small apartment in Chicago, I had to get rid of a lot of furniture, and I was surprised by how traumatic it was. One of the items that had to go was a couch I had custom-made when I lived in Los Angeles. It was a very nice couch, even though it was getting pretty threadbare even though I’d had it re-upholstered once, and I loved it. The thought of getting rid of it was unbearable.
Why? Because it was just a couch? No. Because my mom and Ray had sat on it, and many years later I could sit on it, and reach out my hand to the cushion beside me and imagine Mom there, or Ray. As long as I had that couch, I could pretend that they’d just gotten up and would be back any moment, to sit beside me again. Getting rid of it cut yet another cord which bound me to the past. It’s not so much that I want to be bound to it, but simply that I have no choice in the matter.
To me, life is rather like jumping out of a plane: it is a wonderful, exhilarating experience until you realize that the ground is coming closer with frightening speed, and you don’t have a parachute.
I readily admit that I probably take this hanging-onto-the-past thing a bit too seriously. As some can never throw away a piece of string, I can never throw away the threads to my past.
My move to Chicago also necessitated that I, with great reluctance, turn over custody of some key links to my past to my relatives for safekeeping: my grandmother’s steamer trunk; the radio on which I heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I keep a storage shed in southern Wisconsin wherein I am keeping the desk and chair I bought at a Goodwill in Los Angeles and carefully refinished, plus a large coffee table I gave to my parents as a Christmas gift almost 50 years ago. I have no room for them in my apartment, but I cannot part with them.
I have a huge box of playbills from every play I’ve ever seen from 1950 on up…as well as several of the ticket stubs (a good seat for a Broadway show used to run less than $10.00). I have a flier for a bar in San Remo, Italy. I have jars of stones picked up along the shore of Lake Superior; I have the letters my parents wrote me throughout my time in the Navy and beyond.
I have the envelopes containing the plane ticket stubs from the time I took my parents to Hawaii—Mom had always dreamed of going there—in 1960. I have a petrified snail shell I found while walking along a railroad track in Los Angeles in the 1970s; and a small liqueur glass I stole from the bar at the Istanbul Hilton in 1956.
In my dresser drawer is a pair of sweat-pants with “Margason” stenciled on the seat. They were issued to me in August of 1954 when I entered the NavCads. I don’t wear them, of course…their purpose is not to be worn, but to keep me tangibly linked to that part of my past.
I suppose there is a very fine line between “idiosyncrasy” and “psychosis,” and I readily acknowledge I probably do a balancing act between them on this issue. I can never fully explain how important these direct links with the past are to me. They protect me as the ground rushes up toward me; they comfort me. They are part of who I am, and as long as I have them, I have the past, and I am not alone.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: www.doriengrey.com: