just things

When he was stationed in Japan, my dad bought and shipped home jewelry, china sets, ceramic vases, and decorative items that hung on the walls of our house for more than sixty years.  He also bought a very large set of delicately-etched glassware of various shapes and sizes for every cocktail imaginable.

But my parents hardly drank, so unless there was a party of some sort, the glasses stayed safely behind some short doors at the top of each of the main kitchen cabinets.

Late in her life, I was talking with my mom about the set and she mentioned that there was a cocktail shaker that was a part of it.  I reached up to get it down, grabbing it by the metal top, which was not attached to the beautiful glass bottom.  That fell to the floor and shattered into pieces.

When I mentioned that traumatic incident to someone else in front of her sometime later, she said, “It was just a thing.”

I’m a bit of a pack rat, although I stop well short of hoarding.  (I think.)  Most notably, I have many cubic yards of books and files full of interesting items, which I lovingly call the Brakke Archives.  When I’m writing, it’s handy to have that kind of reference material around, but how often do you really need it?

Then there is the piling up of stuff that comes from being in one house for twenty-eight years.  It would be startling to see an inventory listing of all of the clothes in the closets, the contents of those plastic bins stashed here and there, the utensils and tools of every sort, and all the rest of it.

Yes, I know there are lots of books and websites and programs devoted to purging yourself of this weight.  I fancy zen habits for its emphasis on a simple life.  But it takes time and effort to tidy up and, well, there’s usually something else to do.

I don’t want to get into too much self-flagellation here.  There’s a reason that storage facilities have blossomed across the American landscape.  Many of us are in the same boat.

Beyond the normal sloth, maybe we are wary of having to make some hard choices on what to throw out and what to keep.

My great-grandfather’s violin-making tools lie buried in a grove on the family farm.  My dad’s flying helmets somehow made their way to a distant relative in Florida, never to be seen again.  In some sense, each of them had something to do with what it means to be a Brakke, and it would be nice to have those possessions as connections to that past and to them.

That’s it.  Some of these things have a lot of emotion tied up with them.

I would love to have the life-sized cardboard Cybill Sheperd display item that had been in his family’s drug store that Jono put next to the car in our driveway one night.  The note on it said, “Go get ’em, Brak,” for me to see early the next morning when I went off to football training camp at college.

Sure, lots of the stuff around here doesn’t carry such memories, so I should just get on with it, but it’s surprising how much of what hangs around has some tie to the past and to cherished loved ones now gone.

For better or worse, I feel like the keeper of much of it.  There are those items that are just things, and those that are something more.

My mom’s last driver’s license ended up with me, like lots of other stuff.  It’s made its way to at least three different rooms over the months since I ran into it.  It serves no purpose and there are better pictures of her – and she would certainly say, “What are you doing with that old thing?”

But I can’t let it go.

Subscribe: email | twitter