Holidays in History

 A lady in her 60s told me she’s been trying to declutter her home for several years. Specifically, she’s asked her children and grandchildren on many, many occasions, to take beloved items—tea cups, antique furniture, a grandfather clock—and enjoy them now in their own homes.

No arguments would be involved since the children have already noted who gets what with marker on masking tape stuck to the bottoms of each piece. Excellent pre-planning.

But the kids won’t take their inheritances early. They say they don’t have anywhere to put them or they need to get rid of their own clutter first. They insist that mom should hang onto the items just a little longer.

My first thought was, “Geez, kids! Help your mother out. And help yourselves. You’re going to have to deal with this sooner or later.”

Then the grandmother told what seemed like an unrelated story. While setting up her house for Christmas, she moved the decorated box that displays received greeting cards from its usual spot in the living room to the kitchen table, where she and her husband could read the cards over breakfast.

Her granddaughter, stopping by for a short visit, looked at the empty spot where the box used to sit and asked her grandmother rather tersely what had happened to it. Granddaughter then marched to the kitchen, picked up the greeting card box and walked it back to the living room table–the place, she announced, “where it belongs.”

The two stories fused in my mind. I finally got it! The children don’t really want the china or antiques for themselves because they already sense a universal truth: your parents’ things don’t necessarily belong anywhere besides their house. What makes each piece special is simply that it sits on the same shelf in the china cabinet or tick-tocks in the same hallway year after year.

Yet right after your parents die, this is so easy to forget. Suddenly, a tea cup means everything because you believe, for a time, it’s all you have left of them. And then it breaks years later and you feel nothing but surprised that you aren’t more upset. All its magic was gone once it entered your home.

I struggled with this concept for years as I tried to find a place for the only Christmas decoration I saved from my parents’ estate: a garland of little boxes wrapped in foil. Every year, we draped that garland over the gilt mirror above the buffet. It was perfect there!

Since transporting it thousands of miles over five years ago, I have draped the garland over our own gilt mirror…where it doesn’t match anything else. I’ve tried it across the curtain rod and even woven into a light fixture. My reaction was always the same: “Ehhhhh….”

What mattered about that garland, really, was that I was with my dad when he bought it. We were out shopping, not even looking for decorations, and that string of shiny boxes just grabbed him. I remember his happiness in that moment, and, counter to his tendency to over analyze, his certainty and swiftness of action in purchasing it. That memory is what’s important, not the garland itself.

So let me save you a few hours and lot of frustration. If you can’t find the right spot for an heirloom from the estate, put it away for now. Maybe something will come to you in a month or year or two. In the meantime, look at it every once in a while and just remember where it used to be, and what it meant back then.

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