God, how I hate endings! I can’t help it, but every ending reminds me that my time on earth is not infinite, and endings, like the ticking of a clock, are a constant reminder of that fact.
Every day I have the same “lunch”…an 8 oz can of liquid nutritional supplement (350 calories), half cup of milk (60 calories?), and a small container of Benecalorie nutritional supplement (320 calories, but containing the only essential vitamin not found in the other liquid supplement). It never varies. I don’t have other things for lunch partly because I’m too lazy to try to think of what else I might have, and partly because I probably wouldn’t eat much of it if I did have it. I’m in it for the calories, and I know how many my standard provides.
But this morning at the store, I bought some yogurt, with which I planned to vary my routine by adding it to the other ingredients and whipping it up in the blender. Which brings us to the subject of this blog.
My blender belonged to my mom. I have absolutely no idea how old it is, other than very. I’m sure mom had it since the ‘50s. I inherited it from her when she died in California in 1970, kept it with me through my various moves within Los Angeles and Pence and now Chicago.
So I prepared my smoothie—the blender working perfectly as it has for over half a century. Drank most of a glass, then went to pour the rest from the blender to the glass. I noticed as I did so that there were some flakes of black at the bottom of the blender. Investigating, I realized that the black rubber gasket at the base of the pitcher part of the blender was crumbling. Not knowing how much of it I’d already swallowed in what I’d just drunk, I dumped out the remainder of my smoothie.
Thinking I might be able to find another gasket, I tried to unscrew the aluminum blade housing from the glass container portion. It would not budge. I got a hammer and tapped one of the flanges on the side of aluminum, and the glass container broke, leaving me with yet another intimation of mortality. The bottom section, with the motor, still works fine, and I’ve ordered another canister and aluminum canister base w/gasket, but it won’t be quite the same. And at least I won’t have to throw it away. I can pretend it’s still my mom’s! It was in my two L.A. homes, and my two Pence homes, and my Chicago apartment. It’s done everything I ever asked of it, and did it well and without complaint. So I guess I’m making a big fuss over nothing.
I know, I know, things are just things. They have no awareness, no feelings. But I do, and rightly or wrongly, things make up the fabric of my life. They are tangible memories. I touch them, and knowing that others I have loved and who were so much a part of my life also touched them means they are not really gone…just away for a while.
As I understand it, Eastern cultures espouse the meaningless of things, and I in fact have friends who believe basically the same things. And I agree that things can be a burden…carting them around from place to place when they can easily be replaced by newer and better things. But they are not and can never be the same things. They do not have, on their surfaces, the tiny residual atoms of those people who once held or touched or sat on them so long ago.
I have stuffed animals I bought for Ray, or Ray bought for me; I have the end tables my mom bought at an unpainted furniture warehouse and varnished herself when she first moved to L.A., and the chair she bought. I have the delicate cocoa set which belonged to my grandmother Fearn (who died many years before I was born), and pocket watches belonging to both my grandfather and grandmother Fearn. I have a wooden Buddha given me by my friend “Uncle Bob” to welcome visitors, and an artillery shell brought home from WWI by my Uncle Buck.
Do I need them? No. But do I need them? Oh, my yes, for they are as much a part of me as my fingerprints, or my soul.
The dictionary lists several meanings for the word “things,” but for the purposes of this blog, I’m using the one referring to possessions. People have three types of possession-things: things we have because we need them, things we have because we want them, and things we just have for no particular reason. The only exceptions seem to be those who live in total, abject poverty, and those devoted to the monastic life.
Having spent more than 50 hours working at Norm’s condo (I have to keep track as part of my being executor of his estate), going through his things, organizing them, and trying to find a way of disposing of them, I realized once again just how addicted we all are to…things. And being in the position, with Norm, of standing somewhat removed from his things, it is clear that the last two of the three types of things are by far in the majority. These are things we do not really need regardless of how much we may have wanted them when we got them, things we no longer use and never will use again, things we come across in our closets and dresser drawers that we’d totally forgotten we have.
Just about everyone I know has an “everything drawer” somewhere, usually in the kitchen, into which we toss things we don’t know what else to do with but think we might conceivably need at some future point: keys to locks seldom used or lost (but which we’re sure will show up at some point), somebody’s business card, matchbooks, perhaps an ashtray just in case a smoker comes by, a “church key” (bottle opener), and a wide assortment of unidentifiable objects, usually small pieces of something we meant to repair or get to one of these days.
But in truth, for many of us our entire home/apartment is in effect a large “everything drawer.” And as the years go by, more and more things are tossed into it.
I live in a small, one-bedroom apartment. I have no fewer than 12 bath and hand towels, and I’m not that dirty. Even were I to have overnight guests, I couldn’t accommodate more than two, and I do laundry every week. So why do I have so many towels? Oh, and the other day at Norm’s I came across a couple of really nice, big bath towels which I of course brought home to add to all the others I already have. Why? Did I want them? Yes. Did I need them? No. Will I soon forget I have them? Probably.
My closets are full of clothes I haven’t worn in years, and probably never will. Yet whenever I determine to clean out a closet, I’ll come across shirts or pants or jackets that I’d forgotten I had. (“Oh, that’s where that went! I’ll wear that next week, for sure!” And I don’t throw it away, and I don’t wear it, and it sits there until next time I determine to clean out the closet.)
My bookcase is overflowing with books. A couple of them I’ve never gotten around to reading but hope to. Several of them I’ve read more than once and plan to or may well read again at some point. But I’d say the majority of books there are ones I’ve read once and will never look at again. And I do give them away on that rare third-or-fourth blue moon that I get around to clearing out the bookcase. But bookcases are amazing things in that, having been cleared out, magically tend to refill themselves in short order.
Now, there are two distinct sub-categories of “things”: those which really matter and those which don’t. I’ve spoken often before of my total inability to get rid of those things which have some special significance to me…which are tangible bridges to the past and to the people I associate with them. I’ve said several times that I would never, on my own, have purchased the small art-deco display piece—a woman with a 1930s hairstyle and wearing a 1930s negligee—draped with a 1930s bakelite necklace— Ray bought for me as a gift because I’d once mentioned to him that I liked art deco. But it is one of my most treasured “things” simply because it came from him. And it stands on another of my most-prized “things,” the battered old dresser Norm and I bought and refinished somewhere around1960. Together, they represent a tangible combination of memories of loved ones lost but never gone.
Were a fire or some natural disaster to destroy my apartment and everything in it, as tragically happens frequently to others, would I be able to survive? Of course. I realize that the true value of almost everything I treasure most derives primarily from the memories I associate with them. And I know that memories remain long after the thing or person with whom they are associated are gone. But it is far better to have the both the memories and the ability to physically touch those things which are the doorknobs to open the door to the past.
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: