Does old equal valuable?

A woman on a list I belong to came across a ratty old quilt.  She asked the group what she should do with it as it was too far gone to repair.

I just want to make some observations about quilts, old and new.  We all make them for different reasons.  For myself, I enjoy the process.  Some of them I have given as gifts, some I have sold, many I have used and enjoyed.  Only a couple have any sentimental value.

Here’s where you can gasp in horror – I threw out the first original quilt I designed and made.  I loved it at the time, of course, but the fabric was inferior and one of the pieces began to rot right through within a couple years.  After giving it house room for more than two decades, I got rid of it last fall after my mother died.

The conjunction of those two things is not an accident.  As I may have mentioned before, my mother’s 3400 sq foot house was crammed with THINGS.  She thought all of them were worth saving.  Heck, she thought most of them were worth money. She was wrong.  Something is worth money only if someone else is willing to pay for it.

If you are a person who finds sentiment in everything, for whom every old plate or quilt has a story to tell, that’s great.  Keep those things.  Enjoy them.  Use them.  Or box them up and become a hoarder.

But please, don’t try to make other people feel bad if they do not feel that same connection.  Not all of us do and I say, thank goodness for that.  We have to live in whatever space we have.  Keeping everything is just impossible unless you want to walk sideways through the piles.

In my opinion, keep the things that mean something to YOU.  If the original maker of that quilt didn’t care enough to leave it to a family member or if there was no one in the family who cared or even if there was no family left, the sentiment is already gone.  Without knowing the story, you aren’t holding onto their history.  You’re just making things up.

Here is the next part that will make people mad at me.  You can’t keep everything connected to a person you love, much less all the other old stuff that will cross your path.   Keep the brooch she wore every Sunday or the ring she got for her 25th anniversary, but get rid of the dime store earrings she bought on a whim or the whole collection of inexpensive watches, bought to match every outfit. 

Keep something you will use or wear or hang on the wall.  If you are going to keep it in a box in your attic, you might as well save a step and send it to the Salvation Army right now.  If you don’t, your children will.


What we leave behind

I was in my car running errands when the DJ said, “I have a special reason for playing this next song. I’ll tell you after it’s over.”  I heard the first distinctive notes of “The Entertainer” from The Sting and knew that Marvin Hamlisch had died.

I felt inexpressibly sad.  He had brought so much joy into my life over so many years, it was almost as if we were friends.  Of course, Marvin didn’t know me from Adam but he had made it possible for me to know him, not only through his wonderful music but because he appeared so often on TV.

He showed up as himself on talk shows, documentaries, tributes to his work or to other people and even on sitcoms.  He was charming and funny and made you want to spend the evening with him. 

Above it all was the amazing music.  Look at a list of the things he wrote from “Sunshine, Lollipops” for Leslie Gore and “The Way We Were” for Streisand to all those sad, funny, soaring songs in A Chorus Line.  Can you hear “One” without seeing those gorgeous girls in the top hats, without wanting to get up yourself and kick up your heels?

Even after all the people who remember him are gone, his music will still be there,  like Sinatra’s voice or Cary Grant’s movies, like Marilyn’s giggle and sultry walk, like the words of Shakespeare or Steinbeck.

That isn’t going to happen for most of us, so it seems that our only real legacy is the memories we create for other people – not the perfect birthday cake or the expensive present – but the surprises, the kindnesses, the smiles and hugs and even the ready shoulder to lean on or the ear willing to listen.  It won’t matter if we get credit or even if the other person knows our name.  Each caring act bends the universe just a little in the right direction.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Father’s Day thoughts

My mother used to say that she didn’t need any sons, she had Martin. My father was not only a child at heart, he knew how to let go and enjoy life the way a child would.

When I was little, he brought home a series of amazing toys like an accordion, a full-sized trampoline and a cotton candy machine.  Don’t be fooled.  Those were all so he could play and we were welcome to join him.

Long before there were audio cassettes and portable tape players, he bought a 4-track tape recorder.. He said it was so he could practice his sales pitch.  Ha!  You could sing with yourself and play the musical accompaniment.  He spent hours recording himself whistling tunes, singing tunes and playing the melody on his piccolo.

Many years later, Marty brought home a player piano.  The rest of us had to pump our hearts out to get music, but he could just sit down and play almost anything by ear.  Sadly, he didn’t pass that gene along to me.  I got his stubborn streak and his love of words.

He played board games in the house and sports in the yard.  The neighbor kids would come to the back door and ask Marty to come out to play.

When it snowed, you knew to be on alert.  At some point, he was sure to show up – in the house – and get you with a snowball!

He loved to build things and would make anything you asked for.  Unfortunately, his sense of scale was often skewed.  The little desk you anticipated would take up half the room but the end table for the sofa looked like a piece of child’s furniture.

Marty finally found his milieu.  After he retired, he started building dollhouses and the furniture that went in them.  He made amazing pieces absolutely to scale with inlaid wood and working drawers.  My mother was in charge of interior decorating and they both shopped for commercial pieces to augment what he made.  I provided the quilts for the beds.

This house was a kit but it is the only one I have with good interior photos.

Like all the others, this house is on a movable table.  My mother would decorate for the seasons and holidays.  I made the trees.

Don’t get me wrong.  In many ways, he was a Victorian father with 19th century rules and values. You broke the rules and you paid the price.  On the other hand, he had only daughters and he expected them to do well in school, go to college and be able to support themselves.  As he wisely pointed out, there were no guarantees that we would get married and have a man take care of us.

He wasn’t very good at expressing his feelings in words but his deeds spoke volumes.  The day after I came home from the hospital with my first child, my dad showed up at the door with an armload of my favorite flowers – gladioli.  He just happened to see them.  Right…..

Our first house had no air conditioning and the summer was – well, it was a typical Virginia summer, oppressively hot and humid.  He came over one day with a window unit and installed it in the kitchen so I could cook for the family without passing out.

I’ve bored you long enough with stories about my dad – take time today to think back over your own stories and share them with your children.

If you are lucky enough to still have your dad, I hope you are able to spend some part of the day with him.  I would if I could.

More Summer Musings

Seeing those fireflies got me thinking about summer when I was a child.  That was in the 1950’s, just to give you a point of reference, and I have to say that it both seems like yesterday and another lifetime.

My father was a big fan of books like Penrod and Sam by Booth Tarkington.  If you aren’t familiar with it, think Tom Sawyer without the danger.  Or Little House on the Prairie without the hardship and the locusts.  I read them all and the idyllic life they portrayed seemed so wonderful.

The funny thing is that our life wasn’t that different.  We lived in a time when we could – and did – leave the house unlocked almost all the time.  My parents sent us out in the morning, confident that the neighborhood was safe and if we needed anything, we could knock on almost any door for help.

We had one TV and three channels.  My dad was the one who got to choose the programs but, honestly, there wasn’t much difference between Gunsmoke and Cheyenne, Red Skelton or Milton Berle, I Love Lucy or I Married Joan.

We did things together as a family, like playing cards or board games.   Cards were a way to learn your numbers and do math in your head.  Board games helped you count or read.  No one said these things to us but they were true.  My father never let us win, so when we beat him at something, it felt like an achievement.

I was fascinated with the badge requirements in the Girl Scout handbook and was always trying to do the assignments.  I can clearly remember starting a little campfire and trying to make stew.  Patience was not my strong suit and 30 minutes was about all the time I could wait.  The potatoes were raw and disgusting.

Of course, I was doing it by myself.  There were only two girls close to my age in the neighborhood.  Kathy and her family had moved by the time I tackled the campfire stew and Leslie and I just never hit it off.  I liked her mother a lot, though, and often went to visit with her.

(My actual experience in the Girl Scouts wasn’t memorable.  In general, it seemed like too much regimentation and not enough fun.  Did I mention that I have often been accused of not working well with others?)

My sisters were both more gregarious and more willing to play sports.  Badminton was about as athletic as I ever got.  The appeal of running around and getting sweaty eluded me as a child and I never changed my mind.

So I would wander off alone, exploring the creeks and wooded areas that still existed near where we lived.  I would sit with a book under a tree or spend hours coloring the paper doll clothes I had designed for my sisters to play with.

I learned to sit quietly and listen to the adults talk.  I read adult books.  And I dreamed of growing up and doing what I wanted.  Not that I had any clear idea of what that was, but happily ever after had a nice ring to it.

My mother didn’t drive until I was almost 15 years old, so we weren’t shuttled around to a lot of activities.  Really, no one lived that kind of life in the 50’s.  I guess Little League ball must have been around, but none of the kids in our neighborhood were players.

It was just the long, hot, endless time of getting to know yourself, doing what you wanted (within reason) and just being a kid.  I tried to give my own children that experience when they came along.  In the 70’s and early 80’s, computers had not taken over our lives.  But now?  I listen to what children do with their time and wonder if someday, they won’t wonder what happened to their childhood?

Which kind of childhood summer did you have?

Mother’s Day is more than cards

Everybody liked my mother.  Seriously.  Not only they all told me in person after she died, people never missed a chance to tell me what a nice person she was while she was living.

Dorothy grew up in the Depression and that made her a little strange about money.  She never wasted any even after she could have.  For example, every cotton ball that came out of a bottle went into service to remove nail polish.  Why buy a bag when she got perfectly good cotton for free?

As a mother, I give her an A+.  That ability to make $1 do the work of $3 meant that we never went without anything important.  I knew we weren’t rich when I was growing up but I had no idea we could have been considered poor.  She made our clothes, clipped coupons and did whatever else it took to meet our material needs.

More importantly, she was a real mother.  There is never a time I can remember her being too busy to listen to me talk her ears off, drill me for a test or sit patiently while I read her my terrible short stories.  As a I grew up, she adjusted to the adult me, still treating me as a daughter, but no longer as a child.   I have children of my own and believe me, I know how tough it is to do that.

dorothy_weddingWe shared every kind of confidence and she let me know her as a woman and a friend.  This picture was one of her favorites of herself, but my personal favorites were the casual snapshots of her over the years.  There was a whole album of her with dozens of different boys she met at the USO during the war.  There were tons of photos of her with my father, the undisputed love of her life, laughing, hugging, sharing 60 years together.  My sisters and I were so lucky and, I’m happy to say, we knew it and told our parents how much we appreciated them and the life they had given us.

Dorothy loved any kind of holiday or celebration.  Nothing made her happier than a house full of family and friends. She stayed in touch with everyone.  When family or friends moved away, other people might lose touch.  Not my mother.  She was still corresponding with the wives of the men who served with my father in WWII when she died last fall.

She loved to give presents and not just for the big events that everyone remembers.  She bought us candy for Valentine’s Day and, after I started my own family, gave me a something for my anniversary and Mother’s Day.  In the last decade or so, she gave me money so I could buy something I liked.

garden_pinwheelI put my birthday money last year in a drawer the way I always did, waiting to find something special.  I still had it almost a year later when I fell in love with a giant metal pinwheel that just cried out to be put in my garden.  So I took my birthday money and got my last Mother’s Day gift from my mom.

I can see it from every window on the back of my house, spinning around and catching the light.  She would have loved it.  I think of her while I look at it – not that I need any reminders to think about her.

I hope you don’t mind my personal spin on Mother’s Day.  Think of it as an introduction.  I am sure she and my dad will pop up in the conversation a lot.