Betty J. Slade
"I think we can let go of this. I'll put it on the trailer and take it to the dump."
"I'm not ready to let go. The memories are still fresh."
The discussion was with our son over our outside furniture. Each year we move furniture from storage out into the yard in preparation for another summer season. Al's old blue tractor, a '50 Jubilee, has flowers planted in its front loader. Swings and gliders are taken down to the river where we sit and dream. For us, it's the best of country living, being surrounded by nature with things that hold fond memories.
We continued our conversation. "Most of these things belonged to your dad's family. Your dad loves these things and so do I. We're not ready to give them up."
We came to an impasse on almost every item as we discussed what to keep and what to let go. I was not ready to let go of anything - he was not going to leave things alone. In total exhaustion, he asked, "What's more important to you, the memory of the person who owned it or the thing that has turned to rust?"
He is of a different generation, a progressive modern minimalist with zero emotional attachment to things. My generation will conjure memories of those who passed before us by acknowledging or using those things that passed through their hands. For me and my Sweet Al, it doesn't matter if a chair has a broken leg. With a little duct tape or a spot of super glue, we have an immediate reminder of a person or event that touched our hearts. My son says, "I can get a new chair and still remember you."
It's likely the way things have always been. Each next generation looks at things a little differently from the prior. We see things as farmhouse, rustic or shabby chic. Our son sees things as outhouse, rusty or shabby - well, you get the picture. What we see as memories, he sees as time to let go.
I like to dust off and prop up the old, even if it requires my Sweet Al a few extra hours with wrench in hand. Our son sees it as me putting too much work on his dad. I know it's a great deal of work, but there are a lot of stories layered between the chipped coats of paint - Mama, Uncle Leo, Aunt Daisy and Grandma Blanche.
I gave in to our son on several items. I wasn't happy to know that a swing that once sat on Al's mother's porch was on his toss list. I was, however, happy to see the swing still standing in storage after his dump run. I had told him to toss out the plastic stacking chairs. He said, "Let's keep them. They are lightweight and easier to move to and from the river." Although we agree on little, we do eventually find some measure of compromise.
To be fair, our son does a lot of work for us around our property. Maybe he should have a louder voice. That said, and even though we would do anything for our children, my Sweet Al and I have become very accustomed to our little patch of green grass. Our son can be exasperating at times and Al gets sad about losing things of importance. Fortunately, he respects when I hold the line for his dad, even if it takes a bit of convincing.
Having multiple children means you always have at least one person who can mediate in times of need. For me, that translates to trying to find at least one of them who will take my side. Alas, some battles are better not fought. I called one of our daughters on the day of my son's dump run. She asked me what the problem was. "The air is pretty thick around here. Your brother wants to throw away all of our stuff."
She said, "He wants nice things for you. That's all. He wants you both to have an easier life, more freedom. Sometimes you have to put the old race horse out to pasture."
"Race horse? I have no desire to get dressed up for a big race and don a floppy hat, let alone do I care about some old horse. I just want a nice place to sit and drink ice tea and reminisce."
My green antique porcelain table from Al's grandmother is back on the patio. Now I have a place to put my plants. The old tractor seats for around the fire pit are out and ready to attach to cut logs. The irony of winning that argument came a few days later when a swollen Lower Blanco carried off those that were left by the river last year. Unfortunately, my Sweet Al backed out of the garage and hit the 1940 glider that belonged to Aunt Daisy. I really hated to see that go, although my son relished in the moment.
Is it contentment that we have entered into? Do we need to step out of the picture for a few moments to see how things really look? Have we lived with some things too long that we have made them permanent?
Final brushstroke: So, what is more important, the person we remember or the rust we are holding on to? After all, not even a new coat of paint can bring some things back to life. I guess we have to ask ourselves a different question. Are we keeping the old horse in the pasture so we can see what we want to remember? Perhaps we need to set it free so its memories take on a different form in our hearts and minds. I'm not sure there is just one answer, but we always seem to find it at the right time.
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