A Houseful of Stuff

Our friend, Clare, stayed with us for a weekend last spring.  On the Sunday of her visit we had lunch with other friends, one of whom is a psychiatrist.  At lunch, Clare mentioned that she’d never seen a house that had as much stuff as our house did.  My psychiatrist friend narrowed his eyes and said, “Are you a hoarder, Gail?”

Well, hardly.  Our house is large, so our rooms are uncluttered, but the truth is we do have a lot of stuff.  That said, I have always been an ardent re-cycler, and except for the art on the walls, the bed in which we sleep, our books and our computers, all of our stuff comes either from the home of my aunt and uncle or from Ted’s mother’s house. 

Another guest in our home once said, “none of your things actually belong together, but somehow they work together.” 

Well yes.  Ted and I like abstract and folk art.  My aunt and uncle were partial to vaguely colonial furniture made of beautiful wood.  The kind that weighs a tonne and lasts forever.  I have, use, and love their Thanksgiving china.  My mother-in-law (whom we all called ‘Babba’) was a collector of many things. When she died, she left me a needlepoint she made in 1990.  The message was clear:  “This isn’t Clutter.  These are My Treasures.”  Then, in needlepoint, Babba included samples of her treasures:  her doll collection (which is now in its showcase—totally ignored by all grand-children, boy/girl in our bedroom); her Santa Claus collection (now, loved by all,  in its showcase in our living room); her collection of depression ware (now in her china cabinet in our dining room—used spring to fall for dinner parties); her collection of fiesta ware (in everyday use); her collection of tablecloths (in use constantly). 

With seven grandchildren and two dogs, everything in our home has sustained a fair amount of wear and tear.  When we inherited my aunt and uncle’s dining room furniture, there wasn’t a scratch on their shining table. After many years of Saturday night family dinners, there are plenty of scratches now, but the table still shines and it still welcomes guests – family and friends.

The old platform rocker that we have all used is a favourite with the kids because two of them can sit on it comfortably and rock away. The wall behind the chair has chipped away. Someday, I guess we’ll fix it, but our youngest grand-daughter, Lexi, is only 16 months old, so she has lots of rocking time ahead. 

Amazingly, not much ever seems to get broken.  When our oldest grand-daughters were little they loved to have tea parties and they would always use the bone china tea cups that belonged to my aunt and my mother-in-law, and the girls would always set a Royal Doulton figurine at each guest’s plate—not quite a party favour, but there for the guest’s pleasure for the duration.  The Royal Doulton ladies still have all their appendages, and they still have the faintly disdainful expressions of ladies who feel they might just be slumming.  Great tea parties ahead for Lexi.

When you inherit furniture from two families you love dearly, there are duplicates. My mother-in-law’s dining room table is in my office where I use it every day.  Her rocking love-seat is in our sunroom.  I have two cut-work Thanksgiving tablecloths, and two cut-work Christmas cloths. 

As Clare correctly noted, there is a lot of stuff in our house.  All of it has a value I cannot measure.  I loved my Aunt Hilda and my mother-in-law fiercely.  In one of her few lucid moments in her last years, my Aunt looked at me and said, “We are all living two years too long.” 

The last two years were also incredibly painful for our Babba.  I didn’t cry when my aunt or my mother-in-law died.  I knew that neither of these beautiful, vital women who had lost husbands and homes and lives had anything good ahead.  But on my husband’s birthday, December 5th, I will take my mother-in-law’s Santa collection out of their showcase, and I will remember the story behind every one of those Santas.  I will use my mother-in-law’s sturdy polyester cloth as the undercloth for one of my gorgeous Christmas cut-work tablecloths on my aunt and uncle’s table and, as I do every year, I will find a place to have a small and stealthy cry.

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