By Linda Militello
It is painful to admit and harder to accept that our children don’t like the same things we like. After all, they grew up with us for at least 17 years surrounded by our taste in art and decor. Maybe that explains it.
I grew up in dreary municipal housing stock with green- or orange-painted walls, bare except for a paper church calendar tacked on the kitchen wall and a glass-enclosed print of a Victorian woman in a white dress playing the piano, which hung over a fake decorative fireplace. The fireplace had three empty glass shelves on each side that I dusted every Saturday.
I spent more awake time in my maternal grandmother’s rented apartment above a store. A bookcase stood in the far left corner of the tiny parlor. The bookcase held few books, but was jam-packed with knickknacks and pitcher- shaped china vases. My favorite pitcher was bright white with yellow trim and a nondescript flower on each side.
I was never the type to keep something in a box and not use it. I always displayed my few inherited five-and-dime store treasures because it kept Nonie with me. Her dress-up wig, worn to my wedding because of her thinning hair, became a Halloween and costume prop for years afterward. Ditto the Persian lamb jacket she wore only once to my wedding. Nonie got more happiness watching her great-grandson wear her wig on Halloween than she did wearing it.
Our son lives in a small row house in Washington, D.C., with little space for memory-held collections. Yet he stacks, labels and repackages as needed, zealously guarding past treasures to pull out of hiding when nostalgia fever strikes.
Our oldest daughter, on the other hand, clearly directed us to eliminate as much as possible before our demise, stating, “I have enough of my own things. I don’t want or need yours.” I don’t think she has attached emotional significance to anything inanimate or tangible, ever. Her multiple allergies triggered by anything that dust can sit on or enter into determined her minimalistic decor.
Our live-in daughter proclaimed, as only a concrete thinking scientist would, “I will tolerate your choices until you are gone and then give them away.”
My large book collection has dwindled to key life-changing selections that I refer to when needed. All else comes from the library. No dust mites clogging up our breathing. No storage involved.
We started scaling down after our first two children were out and married. I agonized about relocating Nonie’s few possessions. I still regret donating a certain white and yellow pitcher that seemed to have an innate power to lift me out of depression. I hope that special power works for the new owner.
My buffet is filled with wedding gifted china, some of Nonie’s vases and miscellaneous reminders of events. Some of those events are already forgotten. A silver candy dish purchased from AM&A’s as a memento has lost its significance. So the dish goes to charity. Things without personal attachments are easier to eliminate.
Nonie died 31 years ago, leaving a beautiful Royal Albert cup and saucer that she displayed in the long-gone corner bookcase.
Detaching from things supposedly enhances spirituality – think Gandhi, Buddha or Jesus. William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” For now, Nonie’s cup retains a beauty that my children or maybe grandchildren may need to remind them of an ancestor who saw the beauty in simple things.