I couldn’t imagine getting rid of the African robes. Dawn’s on this kick now from a book where you categorically go through things to determine what brings you joy and if it doesn’t, you get rid of it. We’re putting things in piles in the middle of the room and holding judgment. I did my clothes yesterday but the African robes, however impractical, survive another day.
There was a period of a few months I house-sat for my mom and John while they were living in France. They’d go back and forth every 90 days between the place in France and their ‘home-home,’ in Pennsylvania.
I left my job at Starbucks in 1997 so I could move to a condo on the Mediterranean they still owned, one village over from their new house in France. Before that, I house-sat so I could temp and earn some spending money.
I wasn’t fit to house sit, wasn’t as responsible as I’d like to think. The house was built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and John gave the previous owner free guitar lessons for about 10 years, waiting for the moment they’d decide to sell, and John could be there to make an offer.
It was built in the side of a hill off route 100 in Pennsylvania Dutch country: real country, with farms, and towns with names like Kuhnsville, Fogeslville, New Tripoli.
It didn’t look like much from the outside because you couldn’t really see the house until you went inside, and then it opened a story down, with two floors of glass windows facing the valley east, all forest, state game lands, sometimes the pop of a rifle in the distance, two decks overlooking it: and any time I’d have male friends over and we’d get to drinking, they’d ask if they could go out and pee off the deck and I always said yes.
I threw a couple parties there and reconnected with an old classmate Pete Snyder, who was now a musician and tied in with others from Philly he jammed with, who all turned up one weekend with their gear, their thrift store hats and eyeglass frames, and I got out the African robes, said everyone needs to change into one of these: and then a snowstorm came, the power dipped, the dogs got nervous, and a couple guys came by real late I didn’t know, one of them trying to kick heroin, visibly uncomfortable doing so: and it got so late it was already morning, the sun coming up and just me and him, awake still—and I said I should go to bed, I showed him to a room where he could stay, but when I got into bed myself I remembered it was the room where I’d hidden John’s guns, and thought about him in there unable to sleep, getting restless, wondering if he’d start looking around.
Dawn talked more about the book, the fact the things we own want to help us, they want to be honored and respected. And it made me wonder if there’s a two-way interaction with our possessions, could they take on properties we assign to them, are they porous that way? Do they hold a charge from a previous owner, and can we sense that somehow?
There’s a story often with things we love most, or identify with. And when we’re gone and someone else goes through our things, they’ve lost their meaning, they’re just things, story-less.
My mother-in-law Beth told the story of a hair extension she had that was like a wig, that cost a lot and they got it when she and Dick were dirt poor, but never wore it, and can’t get rid of it now because it’s maybe getting rid of the possibility she’ll one day use it in the future and that’s hard to reconcile, it’s always easier to put off another day.
We had so much Christmas stuff we’ve accumulated over the years, I resigned to purge the unused things before we put the others away. But before Christmas I decided the unused things need to come out anyway, a kind of trial to judge their value once and for all: I lined them up in clumps along the window sills and mantel—and one, a stuffed snowman dated 2009, took Charlotte’s interest: she picked it up and squeezed it, talked to it, named it, and I could swear when she put it back down, the snowman smiled.
That’s why they’re so hard to get rid of I think, they’ve got us in them, all that we’ve loved and hope we will again, some day.