Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Woman's Treasure...

My Grandmother, Ruth Alexander, my grandfather, James Alexander, and my mother.
No. I don't know what year. I'm thinking...1945?
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

It has been a full day of small things. I spent hours reorganizing cedar chests so that the pictures I have brought home can be kept safely and I have gone through so many of the pictures, as I said. I have thrown out a lot of stuff and have a box of things for Goodwill, a box for my brother. There is absolutely no change that you can see but still, there has been change. Good change.
I am finding, in going through my mother's things that I am learning a great deal about what to keep and what to throw away or pass on and I have been acting on that information for awhile now. The lessons that really got hammered home today for me are:

1. You will ALWAYS order too many of your children's school pictures and family portraits. Always. And then they will be stuck in a box somewhere, waiting to be freed, waiting to shower guilt on someone who will have to deal with them forty years from now. So go for the smaller package when ordering prints. I am giving you wise advice here.

2. When you go on a trip, do not take so many damn pictures. No one in this world will want to see them except for you, and even that is doubtful. I have thrown away entire rolls of prints today of pictures of various mountains and cathedrals and monuments and ocean views- all horrible shots, none of them the least bit interesting. Make memories, not necessarily photographs. And if you DO take photos from a trip, label them.

3. Label everything. I also threw away so many beautiful old black and white shots from the forties and fifties of friends of my mother's which I know at one time were important to her but are of no use to me or anyone I know at all. Put dates on things. And if you lose interest in a picture, or pictures, throw those away or delete them. JUST DO IT! Remember- this is your own history we're talking about and if it's not important to you, don't clutter up someone else's life with it.

4. Please. All of us should try to still use paper and pen and the post office at times. We may all still be communicating fifty-ways to Sunday but not in ways that will ever be discovered and reread in the future. In my brother Chuck's baby book I found cards and notes from people I remembered so well from my childhood. People who have almost achieved mythological status in my mind. To find notes from them, written in their own hands- well. It was something. I kept one that means everything in the world to me and will mean nothing to Chuck. When I die, it won't mean a thing to anyone and it'll be thrown away with my blessings. I found a letter that Mr. Moon wrote in 1987 declaring his love for me to "the world." I slapped that puppy in a frame. You bet! And you know what? One of my kids WILL want that. Maybe his or her kids won't, but that's fine.

5. Don't buy fucking crap. Crap, crap, crap that we all throw into drawers and end up in land fills. Cheap flashlights and fans and windchimes and gardening tools and flower pots and FUZZ SHAVERS. You know what I'm talking about. Sure, it's fun to go to Walmart (demon of the universe) and buy cheap crap but better to save your money and buy stuff that your kids might actually want someday and that will give you real pleasure as you use it. I'm talking about good knives, nice crystal, real picture frames, real jewelry, good clocks, nice linens, etc. And USE THEM for your own pleasure. Don't just put them away in a drawer. If you can find them in thrift stores or pawn shops or antique stores, all the better. Believe me- I know this for true- people donate some very fine things to Goodwill because they are just desperate as shit to get rid of things.

And finally:

6. Do not assume you know who your parents are or have always been. You have no idea. I found a note written on a box by my mother a long, long, long time ago. It said, "This is a new pen. I love it."
That amazed me. I have always loved good pens and been obsessed with finding the best ones I can and some of my children have the same obsession but I never, ever knew my mother to use any pen except whatever freebie/cheapo pen was at hand. Or a pencil. And yet- at some point in her life, she loved good pens.
Who knew? Not me.
But now I do.
And dammit, I sort of wish I had that pen.

And I really wish I knew more about the relationship between that man and that woman up there at the top of this post. My mother's parents. I knew them as a child, I lived with them, and yet, what I know about their life together or as separate beings before that is ridiculously small.

Well. It's been a good day. A full day of small things.
And now I need to make our supper.

Life is interesting, y'all. I swear it is.


  1. Oh, that Mr. Moon is as solid as a rock. I love him for that letter.

  2. i just think you're awesome sauce. your mr. m is awesome sauce too. i aspire to be like you when i grow up (sans children).


  3. The letter from Glen is priceless!

  4. Love #6 and love the love letter


  5. all good advice ms. moon, but oh, that letter!

  6. Beautiful, beautiful post! Your advice on photographs is so valuable!

  7. Gorgeous letter. It should never be thrown out, regardless of who ends up with it. I don't think anybody could fail to be moved by a love that's expressed so simply and beautifully.

  8. Thanks for the advice! Words of wisdom.

  9. This is really interesting. I have saved many letters and poems that my husband I wrote to each other, and I can't wait to show them to my kids one day.

  10. Good advice! I have learned the hard way about not labeling pictures. I have stacks of old pics from the 1800's that I know are members of my family but there are no names or dates on them. So sad. I won't throw them away though because they are so interesting to look at, especially the old clothes.

  11. Great advice - and it seems to me there is so much to talk about with your mother that doesn't have to be painful - all about your grandparents, maybe. And the pen.

    She might be forgetting her appointments and things, but if she's anything like my granny, she'll remember fifty or seventy years ago in great detail.

  12. Probably the best thing I've read online in a while. Good Lord, you are SO RIGHT. Am tucking away, especially, the bit about school pictures (because you know I just found a packet from the Spring photos, half full and half distributed!) and the little trinket business. We need to buy things we're in love with, not just because they shine a little.

  13. I enjoyed the photo and your post. You are so right about every single point.

    My dad and the moms have just shitloads of stuff I am going to have to go through one day. Jesus.

    Love you SO!

  14. Ms. Trouble- He IS my rock.

    Mrs. A- How can you be like us with no children? Okay. I'll let you.

    SJ- I know. I wouldn't take a million for it. OH. Wait. Maybe I would.

    Michelle- I'm glad you liked. Love you.

    Angella- I know. He needs to update that letter though.

    Photocat- I'm not sure about why we keep pictures at all any more. I know that's drastic but still...

    Agnes- And he says he can't write.

    Scott- Painfully learned wisdom.

    Lora- They may be slightly nauseated. Depends on the letters/poems and kids.

    Lois- I'd keep those too.

    Jo- She's exactly like that.

    Ms. Bastard-Beloved- Tell them to start getting rid of it NOW!

  15. Such wise stuff here. I am glad that my parents kept a lot of things. But we have no one who really wants any of the old photos or any of the old letters. So they will go to auction when we die. Maybe some collector beside Cracker Barrel will want them. Nice letter from Mr. Moon. I have the ones that my parents wrote to each other.

  16. Loved the "This is a new pen. I love it." I do that.

  17. Syd- And I am sure that those letters are meaningful to you as they were to your parents.

    Martin- Yes. I think many of us do this.


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