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Things I Kept

Updated on November 15, 2011

To hear my family tell it, I never visit them in Maryland, and missing one day of phone contact qualifies me as "practically a stranger." The truth is, over my 5 year stint traveling I flew home about every 3 months, called home nearly everyday, and thought of them all the time. The other truth is, I love going home. Going back to Maryland is about my mom making me dinner, my brother making me laugh, my dad making me think, my granny making me worry, my aunt making me crazy, my friends making me remember, and the whole lot of it making me very grateful. Being the pathetically sentimental person that I am, I had the bad habit of holding on to all sorts of things that I should've let go--cards, pictures, concert tickets, things like these. Attempting to keep things light while on the road, I did what anyone with parents living in the sticks would do--stockpiled useless crap in their basement.

While I personally thought that this was an excellent solution, my parents disagreed. Before I ever left home, they threatened to "toss it all in a landfill" if I didn't clean out the basement, and thus began our 'parental empty threats, followed by offspring empty promises' cycle. January of this year, I decided things were going to be different. Gazing out of the airplane window as we left San Francisco, I decided that I was finally going to sort through it all. I began to think of the kinds of things that might be in that basement and I smiled in tune to the memories coming in louder than the music from my ipod. Instead of the dread I usually felt at even thinking of cleaning the basement, I was actually looking forward to it.

Down to the catacombs of my parents dark and chilly basement, and it began--a trip down the windiest and messiest of memory lanes. I shook my head, and laughed my face off at the things that were all there--as if my best memories were gathered for a reunion. I remembered a box of letters I'd saved from an exchange with a guy in New York. A guy I was fairly certain that I had loved in my teens, back when everyone says you're too young to know how you feel. I found cards, and gifts, and playbills from shows. I found the CD with the composition, "Princess March" by the brawny violinist, whom I always admired, and never really wanted. I found the book I called "Voices" containing things my friends said. I found the bluegrass mix from the man who should have rocked the cover of "Perfect Guy" magazine with whom I had no chemistry. He later married, and deserved to marry a wonderful girl who liked things neat, knew how to work an iron, and truly loved him. She certainly didn't seem like the type of girl who would sleep on the floor for 5 months to avoid a commitment (long story), or who plays more practical jokes than most guys, and calls gigantic messes "creative space." She was just so...wifely. She made me want a wife.

There was the napster-obsessed cutie, and I found beer-stained coasters, with smeared, playful writing from the both of us, before we broke each other's hearts. I found the "I'm only doing this because you want to," tickets from one of my dearest of guy friends. A man who would never even consider taking advantage of me. No matter how hard I tried. Seriously, a girl can only be "too buzzed to drive home," but so many times before she gets it through her thick skull that he's always going to be a perfect gentlemen...everytime. Awesome. Chivalry, shmivalry, what was that guy doing, running for Knight?

Hours pass, and my mother makes her way down to my dungeon of memories.

"Are you looking for something--or are you actually going to thin this stuff out for a change?" she asked, all while promising not to help me.

"Both. I'm trying to find a box. It''s silly actually. I just wanted to see if it was here. It's about this big," I said, motioning my hands, " made of cardboard, and it has some sort of latin writing on the outside."

"Your 'memory trash' has lived here for over 10 years. We've had several floods over the years, darling, and I happily tossed the stuff that got damaged," she said, and headed back up the stairs.

"Mom, what is it that made you go into motherhood?" To which bad batch of birth control, or faulty condoms did I owe these types of tender moments?

She turned to me, "all the neighbors were doing it," she replied, and up the stairs she went.

I returned to my project, determined to give a 'mission accomplished' report to Facebook. I had made an airplane resolution, which is binding in my home state, and I worked through the mess. In the end, I let go of 6 trash bags, and 5 boxes worth of memories, and decided that admiring the past should happen digitally from now on. I went up to my room, sometime after midnight.

There was a knock on my door shortly after I left the basement. "Hey, Shan," my mother announced, while simultaneously entering my room. "You don't mean this do you?" She said holding the box that contained the letters for which I had been searching.

"Where did you.."

"This? This, I keep in the living room near the table. It's nice. What's in it?" she said handing it to me.

I had my, 'this is real life and I'm not crazy,' pep talk with myself. It must be said that our family likens my mother's living room to China's Forbidden City. Like the poor of ancient China, we've heard it's great in there, but we're not ever allowed in to be sure.

"So...for the last 10 years or so, you've just kinda kept this in your living room?" I asked.

"Yeah, I like the writing on it. I like that box. Are you going to keep it?" She asked, as if mistaking an ancient artifact for an ashtray.

"Pretty much. Listen, ma, it's just an old box. Thanks for finding it."

"Sure, but it wasn't lost, it was in my living room," she said over a yawn.

"Yeah...good night, old woman," I said, as she headed off to bed.

I opened the box, and there it all was. One of my strangest memories in bundles in a cardboard box that had been sitting in the lap of one my mother's creepy porcelain dolls in the living room. In disbelief, I read one of the letters, and loved the innocence of what I'd found. I wrapped it back in its bundle, put it back in the box and into the nightstand drawer, where it lives today.

I find life to be as a Morrie Schwartz described it, "a tension of opposites." He said, "don't let go too soon, but don't hold on too long." I've found what a profound release learning to let go can be. Something about embracing all that is the past, acknowledging it in truth, and letting some of it go makes space for all that your life is, and all that your life can be. What I hold on to now are lessons, ideas, and loving memories. While I don't hold onto pain, or bad memories, or the things I can't change, I still believe they serve the purpose of illuminating how good the good really is.

Though I call myself a realist, with sarcasm rising, I've noticed that I'm an unsinkably positive person. My roommate, whose glass is usually half empty, cracked, and probably poisoned, recently accused me of being 'just so...sunny,' while giving me a seriously curious look. When things are bad, I truly believe they are going to get better. I cherish the present, but the prospect of the future thrills me in a way that borders giddiness. I am always hoping that everyone lives in a way that is appreciative of their 'right now,' hopeful about what is to come, and charmed by how far they've come from what's already happened.


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    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 6 years ago

      Thanks, Theseus, for reading. From the work of your's I've read it seems you would be sentimental, and I think that's a good thing. A good portion of my life I wouldn't believe myself if it hadn't been for the things I kept. If ever I forget I'm crazy, I have all these ways of reminding myself. The things of the past make us stop and think about where we were, where we are now, and where we're headed. Thanks for the comment, and keep up the hoarding, I mean, "collecting." I certainly won't judge you ;-).

    • theseus profile image

      theseus 6 years ago from philippines

      Aww..I'm so touched by this hub. I've kept memorabilia from my past myself. I even kept my notebooks,school reports, examination results, letters from friends and pressed flowers in a box. My mom has to remind me everytime to trash them out but I can't. I feel that if I do that it's like letting go of something that is a part of me. They remind me of the many beautiful memories of my past and how time has changed my life and me.

      Great hub. :)

    • profile image

      CKMarvelous 6 years ago

      Well, this certainly wasn't the article on hoarding I was expecting. Well, dish, what happened with the guy in the box??

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Nell, I hope you tell everyone you know to keep a diary, or journal! I found diaries in that mess also, and as I was reading through some of it I wondered what sort of basket case would write that dribble...and of course it was mine. It was all so dramatic, I laughed a lot. I really had no idea how good I had it, how good my family had it. I'm so glad I kept diaries...I hope to look back in 10 more years and smile at the changes I make.

      Right Black, thanks--for reading and the avatar comment. Last week I lost my keys, still haven't found them actually, and a friend took that picture as a joke. Said I needed the most current photo for my upcoming "missing person" profile, and then liked it. But it does make me think, "have you seen me?" when I look at it.

    • Right Black profile image

      Right Black 7 years ago from Huntington Beach, California

      Ah, SJ another wonderful read. Thanks. BTW nice avatar.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, I really enjoyed this story, I tend to be a horder and it is only when I go through it, I think to myself, what on earth have I got this for? but then I found my diary from about 14 years ago, and couldn't stop reading it, the one thing that struck me as amazing was the fact that this person, who sounded like a stranger, was me! it was before all my troubles, my mum and dad etc, and other things that have totally changed me, I would love to be that person again, you never know, maybe I will, and you are so right, we should hold on to a few material things but make room for more, thanks nell

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Hi Diane, thanks for reading. I know how tough a decision like yours can be. Maybe there's a way for you to scale down on your things without getting rid of all of it. If I had really let everything go, it would've just stressed me out. I'm down to two boxes in their house, which is far less crazy, and I still get to be a hoarder. Everybody's happy.

      Sounds like you have a great family. I could go on for annoying weeks about how much I love mine. I'd vouch for that fact that being good-humored is a great thing in any family. My family's happiness stems from worshiping a wonderful God--who grades on a curve. ;-)

      I was happy to write this. It's funny that not even a few years ago I would have found this too embarrassing to write. Now I like it. The past is such a great tutor for me. Going through all my junk was way cheaper than the therapy I should be having. Looking through those years of my life, remembering everything, I realized that as much as I loved the good of the past, everything that ever broke my heart--opened it.

    • Diane Inside profile image

      Diane Inside 7 years ago

      What a nice story, I'm making big changes in my life right now and part of that is deciding to go on the road and leave home behind. This will mean getting rid of a lot of stuff I've collected over the years with alot of memories to sift through. As I was sifting through some of this stuff just yesterday. I couldn't believe how much stuff accumulates, worthless junk that holds no meaning to anybody but me. I know how you felt. So nice and poignant. My parents were much the same way, with their sense of humor, and my mom also is the least nosey woman in my world at least. Unfortunately, I think I did not inherit her mind your own business gene. Thanks so much for including us in your walk down memory lane.

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Thanks, Cathy. Writing this, like cleaning the basement, was refreshing. I was thinning things out today at my place, and came across this on scrap paper, "Memory is the cabinet of imagination, the treasury of reason, the registry of conscience, and the council chamber of thought"--Saint Basil the Great. I was wondering what I was going to do with that quote. This seems like a good place. Thanks for reading!

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 7 years ago from northeastern US

      great vivid writing, great helpful thoughts.

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Haha! I think my whole life is hard to believe, but realizing that made me start writing again. I'm gonna send you to this hub

      What gets me about this particular story is that my mother never opened the box. When I went to casually question her about it in the morning, she said she found it cleaning up after one of the basement floods didn't want it to get messed up because it was a nice box, and put it in the living room. And that is my mother, the most un-curious person on planet earth. She kept blah blahing on about how her doll now needed a new box, and did I think she could find a replacement box at Micheal's. In my head I was screaming, "LADY! You've had my 11 year old letters in your freaking living room for the last however many years, and all you can talk about is finding a new box for Sarah Rose. The doll." Instead I said, "Yeah. Try Micheal's."

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Aw,now ...why did you go and do THAT? (make me wonder about "Some of my past is so unbelievable, I got used to people doubting me, (and sometimes I doubted me as well), so I started collecting evidence :-). "

      NOW I am so curious! is it in a hub somewhere?

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Thanks Jackie! I should add that my parents's basement is gigantic.

      Madonna says in a song, "And why do they always say, 'don't hold on to the past'--well that's too much to ask." I know that part of the reason I personally hold on to things comes from my 'imaginary friends' days. Ever since then I had to constantly prove to my family what I was saying was real and not imaginary. Some of my past is so unbelievable, I got used to people doubting me, (and sometimes I doubted me as well), so I started collecting evidence :-). Nowadays, people have just accepted that my life is crazy.

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      I am so impressed with this sentence I felt like standing up and cheering!

      "Down to the catacombs of my parents dark and chilly basement, and it began--a trip down the windiest and messiest of memory lanes." I must say that instantly I was in that basement...feeling the chill and dampness....wondering where to begin.........EXCELLENT.

      on another note, I wonder why it is SO hard to let go of bits and scraps of our past? I've been told,"Just take a picture of it, and let it go." It's not that easy.

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Hi Ruby! No worries, pretty sure most of us are nosy, doesn't bother me. To answer your question, it wasn't one letter, it was all the letters, or emails I should say, and yes I did love him. He had a really good heart. The rest of the story I'm saving to tell the other ashes when I'm cremated, :-). Thanks, as always, for reading.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 7 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Oh, this is so good and you write really well. I'm curious, was the letter from a love of long ago? Boy am i nosey lol I wish i'd kept things to go through. Memories are so wonderful.Take care.

      God Bless

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Thanks, Evvy_09. I'm down to two boxes in their basement which is monumental. I'm not throwing everything away, but really what is it for? So I can go through old junk every decade? I like what you're doing--being fully present in the present and looking forward is the way to go. But I do find myself in this reflective place from time to time. I think I check the past to make sure my next move in the future is the right one. Thanks for reading.

    • evvy_09 profile image

      evvy_09 7 years ago from Athens, AL

      Wow. Makes me wish I had kept some childhood stuff so I can go through it. I'm mostly about what's going on now and the past doesn't usually interest me. The few times I do come across a card from my husband or the couple letters our friend wrote while serving in Irag do throw me back in the past. Awesomely beautiful. :)