Bob and I are in South Louisiana visiting my parents and other family members this week. In the room where we’re staying, my mother has a large, walk-in closet which holds a lifetime of memories. Each piece on those shelves has a story, and the fact it has survived all these years confirms its importance to my mother.
It made me think of how our possessions tell so much about us. One friend is compiling an inventory of her and her husband’s treasures and writing the story behind each object. That is such a great idea. When those riches are passed to the next generation and the next and the next, the story of their origins and their significance will travel with them.
One of my students has a houseful of beautiful, antique furniture. Some pieces came from generations before her, and others she and her husband purchased and added to their collection. She wrote the history of each piece, put it in plastic and taped it to the back or bottom of the object, so in addition to inheriting a wonderful table or chair, her children will also inherit a piece of history.
I walk into my mother’s closet, and the first thing I notice is the change of seasons. My mother loves holidays, and she enjoys decorating for major and minor celebrations. A large ceramic turkey stares down at me from the top shelf, flanked by a newborn lamb and lots of red and white poinsettias, green wreaths and ceramic Santas. A collection of premium green, yellow and purple Mardi Gras beads from decades of parades hang on the wall at the far right. There are Easter bunnies; red, white and blue silk flower arrangements; fall scarecrows, wreathes, and centerpieces. Based on dedicated shelf space, Christmas and Easter are her favorites. My mother is also a master crafter, so many of the pieces are ones she’s made and painted.
On a middle shelf, Mason jars of fig preserves are lined up in perfect rows. My mother made the preserves just as my grandmother prepared them years ago with figs from the tree in the backyard and enough sugar to cause a diabetic coma.
On the right side is my mother’s Dormeyer mixer that is older than me—really, my dad bought it for her in Japan fifty-six years ago at the ship’s store while he was in the Navy—and it still works great. With that mixer, memories flood my mind—five-year-old me standing on a chair next to my mom, making sugar cookies and all flavors and styles of cakes for our many celebrations. I loved to help her and earn the opportunity to lick the beaters and feel the gritty, sweet taste of whipped butter and sugar in my mouth. A brand new, shiny, silver mixer and bowl sits at the far left of the closet, unused, looking like it just came out of the box. It probably did.
My father crafted a round, wooden, fruit bowl made of small strips of walnut glued together and turned on a lathe for my mother in 1954 while he was in the Navy. It was the first thing he ever gave to her. It sits out of harm’s way on the top shelf next to the matching candlesticks he also made in the SS Laertes’ carpentry shop. My dad is a master craftsman, and in his position as head of the various shops on-board the repair ship, he also made guitars and wooden bowling balls for the admiral and other officers.
Shortly after they married in January 1954, my parents went to a craft class in Long Beach, California—I can’t imagine my dad doing that. New love accomplishes many things—where my dad was stationed. There he painted a floral arrangement of tulips on glass, placed crinkled aluminum foil beneath it, made a wooden frame with handles and turned the tulips into a serving tray. That’s in the closet as well.
A carnival glass bowl my grandparents received for their fortieth wedding anniversary holds a prominent place on the third shelf. My grandfather was in the hospital fighting cancer on that day. They celebrated one more anniversary together before he died in June 1974. This anniversary gift sits next to a yellow Depression glass pitcher they received as a wedding present when they married on March 23, 1933.
Also occupying places of distinction in my mother’s closet are less than stellar examples of my handiwork. A ceramic Lucy from Peanuts stands wide-eyed with a crooked smile, red dress, black hair and red beanie—my first significant elementary school creation with the help of a family friend, Mrs. Shirley Ducote. Next to Lucy sits a gray donkey, all teeth and ruby lips. It’s so ugly, it’s cute. Only a mother could appreciate this beast as a birthday present.
My mom cleaned off a shelf in the closet for me to put my clothes on when I come to visit. As I packed up to leave from a visit last year, she said, “I hate seeing that shelf empty. It makes me feel lonely.”
On a pink sticky note, I wrote, “I love you. Now your shelf isn’t empty.” The note is still there.
So, what’s in your closet? Do you have treasures you’ve kept throughout the years? What made these items impossible to throw away? Have you written the stories of your riches? Why or why not? You can always start today. Write a paragraph or two about something precious to you and share it in the comments section below. Let’s start a conversation.