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Thursday, July 6, 2017

One person's keepsakes

My mother had an older sister, Louise, who died at the age of 12. Mom was 9 at the time. She kept her sister's doll the rest of her life, and now I have it. No one in the younger generation - meaning my cousins' grown children - wants it. I can understand why, after thinking about it. I only keep it because of Mom. No one wants a keepsake from a great-aunt they never met.

This reminded me of a story a friend told me about an older woman she was friends with, who had a house full of keepsakes and a story for every one. When she died, her sisters threw out all her 'trash.'

I've given away a few keepsakes of mine already. While one will be kept by the friend I gave it to, the two I gave to a different friend's children have already no doubt been broken, lost, or tossed. I've learned my lesson. I'll give away no more of my keepsakes. They are worthless and meaningless to anyone but me. If they all wind up in a landfill when I'm gone, so be it.

A keepsake is an object with memories attached, and therefore is meaningless to anyone who doesn't have the memories. When my favorite earrings all got stolen, that was what hurt the worst. They weren't just jewelry to me. They were favorites because they were also memories, of Christmases and birthdays, vacations and friends. If I just buy a pair of earrings, I rarely wear them. If they were given to me, then they carry a memory of that person. If I buy them on vacation, they carry the memory of that good time. My stolen earrings couldn't be replaced for that reason, though I bought a few new pair after they were gone. Meaningless earrings, that sit in my jewelry box, and the ones I wear are ones I bought while out having fun with friends.

"It's just stuff" has become the rallying cry of the minimalist movement. Some of it is. Just stuff I can toss or give away with no problem. But the keepsakes are so much more than the object itself. Maybe I'm a sentimentalist. Maybe I cling to things too much. Maybe I'm odd in that I attach memories to physical objects. It doesn't matter. This is part of who I am. I'll continue to treasure my keepsakes, knowing that no one else will, and that when I'm dead they'll be trash. And here is part of the human condition: you're not remembered very long when you're gone. If you have kids and grandkids, you'll be remembered until they're gone. Then, for anyone not famous, it's as if you never existed on this earth. Nearly all of us pass unsung and forgotten, and that's the way it is. Even the famous are forgotten after a few generations. All our struggles, all our experiences, all our hopes and dreams and fears, just gone.

I had a cousin named Judy who was a couple years older than me. We played together a lot when I was a toddler. She died unexpectedly at the age of five. I was three. Her parents threw out everything she owned and every picture of her, and declared her name would never again be spoken. That upset me deeply, though I had no means of articulating it at the time. On one level, I never looked at that aunt and uncle the same way again. They just wiped her brief life away as though she had never existed, and I have never forgotten that, or her. Maybe that's why I feel the way I do about keepsakes. It upsets me down to my core that we are so easily forgotten, even though I realize that this is the norm, part of the human condition. Our lives are brief and soon lost to memory.

7 comments:

Palma said...

Just found your blog by happenstance and this post was written for me. Many thanks for articulating so much truth. Happy days to you! (I also knit and am overly fond of cats)Palma in Seattle

Palma said...

Just read earlier posts. oh, dear. now, I really do mean Happy Days to you! Courage and best wishes, Palma

Marla Shin said...

Thank you, Palma!

ชื่อที่แสดง said...

Just found your blog by happenstance and this post was written for me. Many thanks for articulating so much truth. Happy days to you! (I also knit and am overly fond of cats)Palma in Seattle

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Diane said...

This makes me feel so sad. Am I the only one left that understands your keepsakes? The only one left that has looked and touched them with the same reverence as yourself, because I know the history behind them? The only one left with the same memories and stories? I feel helpless and guilty as I'm the one that broke a latch on a shelf of yours and now the keepsakes you usually put in there are abandoned, with no place to put them. I feel like those keepsakes/memories are as broken as the shelf now. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me.

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Krishna Kumar Shrestha said...
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