Not just possessions, but pieces of life

It’s true, “you can’t take it with you.” You can’t pack a U-Haul and take your prized possessions or your bank account along to the Pearly Gates.

And for many aging people, they can’t take it with them to the nursing home or assisted living facility either.

So that leaves families with the daunting task of taking care of all the possessions that their loved ones accrued over the years. It used to be that these material things were only dealt with when a person died — but as the aging population grows and people live longer lives, more and more families are having to take care of the situation before a person passes on.

And many still have to go through the earthly belongings when the person is no longer here.

Lately, it seems like more and more people I know are talking about how “Mom moved to the nursing home and we had to go through her stuff last weekend.” Or, “my parents just can’t stay in their house any longer, but the new apartment is too small for all their stuff.” Or, “we have to get ready for the auction, now that they’re gone. I can’t believe how many things they’ve collected over the years.”

I realize that possessions are just earthly things — but when it comes to that owl collection that’s been building up in Grandma’s house for decades, it’s much more. These aren’t just possessions, they are pieces of someone’s life.

I remember when my Grandpa Andy died, what a void it left in our lives. Suddenly, that little old man who was a mainstay on the farm, who we’d see every day of our lives, wasn’t there anymore. But what we did have were memories and the physical pieces of who he was and who he came from. Stashed away in a cold upstairs bedroom was this beautiful, extremely old violin that had made its way from Germany so many years before. It had been played by Grandpa’s ancestors, maybe even on the boat — and later in a covered wagon as it made its way west.

And there was the oxen yolk, hanging from big heavy hooks in his garage. It had long been retired, but it stood as a testament to the hard work his grandparents had to do, in order for our farm to be established.

His chair sat in the corner of the little living room, right in front of that old black and white television that remarkably still worked — with an antique stand-up ashtray next to it. Not sure why that was there, seeing how Grandma Onie wouldn’t let him smoke anyway.

It was seeing those old things that made me realize how much we wanted to keep some of them — in order to remember the man.

And there was the time when my husband’s grandma, Irene, moved to town, to a little apartment that more suited her needs than her house on the farm. His family had to empty the residence where she lived most of the entire married life and disperse the belongings she couldn’t take with her. Her vast and colorful collection of owl paraphernalia was mind boggling. Somewhere in a four-decade span, everyone began buying all things owl for her collection which grew and grew. You name it, she had it — owl clocks, ceramic owl figurines, embroidered pictures with owls sitting on a tree branch, coffee cups bearing images of the hooters, salt and pepper shakers, T-shirts, sweatshirts, mirrors, Christmas tree ornaments, TV trays, napkin holders, calendars . . . you get the picture. Some of the owls were vintage 70s in green and orange. Some were more punky from the 1980s. And others were more sophisticated.

But they weren’t just a bunch of owls — they were part of Grandma Irene’s life. And each held a memory — some were the first grandkids had purchased with their own money.

The importance of material things is frowned upon because it bears no real meaning in life. But I have to argue that there are certain things descendants have to hold onto, because these items intrigued us as children and remind us of the people before us.

Like the brass horse that Jerry’s late grandpa, Mark, won at the state fair many, many years ago. Or the “End of the Trail” painting that intrigued his Grandpa Max and hung in their livingroom for decades.

Or the 1950s stained glass dishes my Grandma Irene proudly displayed in her dining room for years and years — they were dust collectors and nothing else. But she loved to clean them, as well as scold us not to break them. I’m sure one of my aunts has them today — I’d love to see them again, because I don’t think anything remotely similar even exists on this planet.

The same goes for the old red and white Ranchero my husband bought at his grandpa’s farm sale — it wasn’t his dream car, but it was something he had to have because it symbolized a man he was connected to.

I still have the fabulous dime store figurine my mother gave her Grandma Petsche for her birthday many years ago. It’s a cheap figure of a little old granny in a mid-length skirt with pantyhose sagging around her skinny ankles, sitting in a rocking chair. The saying simply reads, “Keep on rockin.'” I love that stupid thing. It’s not worth a dime — but it’s priceless to me.

We all have and have had special people in our lives who for one reason or another own certain physical things — either on purpose or by accident. Regardless, they are important reminders of who we loved because they reflect a part of who they were.

It’s true, we can’t take it with us. It’s also true we can’t keep all our special people with us forever. And unfortunately, circumstances change which require giving up old familiarities.

And every once in a while, an owl isn’t just an owl and possessions are more than just things . . . they are pieces of life.


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