Sunday, August 17, 2014


The other day I unearthed a box that was underneath my bed -- yes, it was buried under my bed, covered in dust. My father had sent it to me some years ago, and I don't think I had ever opened it or really looked at the contents. I unfolded my white eyelet high school graduation dress from 1981, my cream-colored (perhaps it was once white) First Holy Communion dress from 1970, a white pinafore that I believe I wore as part of my Dorothy costume from my starring role in the school play in fourth grade, 1972, my Brownie uniform, my Girl Scout uniform and the above accessories. Other than a surreal horror at how tiny , truly tiny I was, not just in second and fourth grades but in my last year of high school (honestly, I swear that I could no more pull that thing over my THIGH much less pull it over my breasts and shoulders and zip it up), I was cast back into intense nostalgia for childhood. On throw-back Thursday last week, I posted a photo of myself from sometime in the late 1980s on Facebook, and more than a hundred people "liked" it. Comments included many exclamations of wonder -- Wow! -- which inevitably made me think have I changed that much? As evidenced by that tiny white dress, well, yes. But when I peer closely at the photo, looking for the me that is myself, I see her, despite the superficial changes. I've mused with girlfriends about unsnarling our identities from our children as we and they age -- how difficult it is to figure out and find, reclaim that me that was before the me that is today. Sometimes it takes peering into photos to find ourselves, not so much to remind ourselves of that youthful beauty but to remind ourselves that life, while transformative, has not irrevocably changed who we are in the most essential sense. I do this with photos of my children, too -- flipping through photo books that I lovingly made when they were babies and toddlers, scrolling through the thousands I have stored on my computer -- Sophie, Henry, Oliver are still there, in the eyes, in the smiles, in the people they've become.

But what do we do with all this stuff? Do I dry-clean the dresses and uniforms, go to The Container Store and buy that preservation tissue and boxes in which to place it lovingly for my progeny? It's hard to imagine either Henry or Oliver will take along this box, open it and feel anything, really, about it other than oh, god, more of Mom's crap. And even though it seems as if all things eventually go there, I am struck by the fact that Sophie, my only daughter, the obvious person to receive these things, will obviously have no need for them or awareness of their "value," if she even lives longer than me. After all, despite the fact that I've saved many bits and pieces of her own life -- darling baby clothes, my favorite of her many beautiful shoes and outfits that I splurged on over the years, some of her "artwork" from early years in preschool and kindergarten when I had no idea how things would turn out -- they really please and mean nothing to anybody but me. Perhaps there's a lesson in that, but I'm not sure. I won't throw any of it right now, though, heavy as it is, invested still with emotion and longing and reminders.


  1. Oh Elizabeth, I understand this so deeply. I have been in this place recently, too, the nostalgia almost an ache. A beautiful post.

  2. I so often feel guilty because I just want to throw things like this away. Is there a museum of family stuff? No, there is not. And as you say, the boys will probably think, "More of Mom's crap" and even if Sophie was more able to be aware of what all of this means, it doesn't mean that she would want to carry it with her into her own life.
    I feel that so much of it is a burden. I don't know. Mostly it all fills me with melancholy and makes me feel as if I am too anchored by the past to be in this moment. Does that make sense?
    But as Angella said- this is a beautiful post.

  3. I have suggested that my wee fan base of 2.1 people on my blog read yours in my latest post:
    - less anonymous Karen
    So this could up your fan base by 2.2 people!

  4. Your boys might not want the stuff but I would guess a granddaughter would want it.

  5. A box like that doesn't take much space. I have been so delighted by some of the old things from my family. On the other hand, my ex-mother-in-law burned her wedding dress. She had had to brush and air her mother's dress--or had watched her mother do that or something like that....year after year, and decided to relieve her own daughter of the burden.
    Two opposite points of view.

  6. I have a framed portrait of my great great grandmother, and a figurine of a well-dressed lady that belonged to her as well. My sister has tons of family heirlooms in her house because she got to it all before I could. Anyway, I think we should save a few things for those who come after us to wonder at, or just sit on a shelf. Of course your boys wouldn't care about these things now, but one day, I think they will. I say that I hate nostalgia because it makes me feel sad and wistful for a thing that can't ever come back. But I do appreciate trinkets and heirlooms. (People were commenting WOW because you're such a hot tamale--then and now)

  7. I am the only son of my mother. And she has a daughter to whom she could pass these types of things down to. She probably will pass them down to me instead when she finally does die. IN fact, many things of this nature have already been given to me.

    Why? Because I have an appreciation for things like this.

    I understand your pain and I hate it, I do...these SHOULD have been Sophie's. But...but...there is a possibility, and you don't know yet, but one of your boys might surprise you. Save the stuff. Preserve it. Treasure it. You just never know.

  8. I'm my grandmother's son's daughter and I would have loved to find or receive a box of her childhood stuff. More so than any of her daughters. It's not taking up too much room. I would save it and mark it for my future descendent who wants it. Could be a grandson too.

  9. Don't feel guilty, holding on to things that tell stories don't make you a hoarder, they make you human. There's always one story keeper in a family, and often it's the mother. How lucky your family is to have such a loving and eloquent one.

    (I had a Brownie cap just like that one, it was my sister's before me. I never wore it -- I preferred to wear ribbon barrettes in my long brown hair and not cover them up.)

  10. Save and savor. I wish I had more "stuff" from my childhood. I'm not sure what I'd do with it---but I wish I had it just the same. I've been writing about my first thirteen years---just the happy, good times and it has been such fun. It's a beautiful post Elizabeth.

  11. Oh how I wish more people valued these things! Bury it again, let the boys find it one day and be glad, even as they may laugh about "Mom's crap," it's just as likely that they'll argue about who gets to keep it. And for now, it's part of you, a lovely reminder of the once-was that still lives in the now-is.
    A lovely post, Elizabeth.

  12. The algia in nostalgia is, of course, pain.

    There's nowness, there's Proust.
    I have my grandmother's desk.
    I keep the drawers shut, to preserve the smell that transports me instantly to another time and place. I also have a dress that was made probably around 1850,and belonged to a distant relative whose history I don't know. It is entirely hand-stitched, and I've done enough sewing to understand the work and attention that went into it.
    I don't know who I can pass it to who
    might intuit its stories, but for
    the moment, it's stashed away in a trunk in the barn the fire didn't take, threads of attachment to the past.

  13. Good morning to you Elizabeth....reading your post today reminded me of a box that I found at my mom's home down in a storage area under the house. My mom was ill with what we know now was Alzheimer's so I couldn't even ask her about the contents. I can't begin to tell you the pleasure of going through the box and how grateful I am for having it fall into my hands and not be carted off to the dumps. (you can read my post at: )

    Like you, I wonder what is to become of the precious heirlooms, or sentimental treasures that I have saved. I've chosen to hold onto them. It could be a future grandchild will be smitten with having them...or even another relative. Time will tell.

    Your post was lovely to read.

  14. It's hard to know what to do with treasured items that mean something only to one person. My mom and I were talking about this recently because she still has HER mother's wedding dress. Do we keep it? Do we throw it away, yellowed and foxed as it is? It doesn't really mean anything to us. Just hard to know what to do.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...