This is a guest post by Annie Brewer from Annienygma.
Annie Brewer learned how to combine minimalism with frugality to live the life of her dreams. A single mother, she is a computer professional who works from home and primarily supports her family through writing.
When Tanja and I agreed to trade guest posts, I knew that I would be writing this piece. I have procrastinated somewhat–even tried to talk myself out of it–because the subject matter brings tears to my eyes. However, my writing is therapy and as such Tanja has given me a priceless gift–the ability to place a piece of my heart upon the wind. It is hoped that my personal solution gives you some ideas of how to handle your own sentimental memories, for I feel sincerely that our loved ones deserve so much more than to be stuffed in a box and filed away. Tanja, thank you so much for allowing me to visit your wonderful site and share my experiences with your readers!
Most of my family have long since continued their journey elsewhere; Grandmother died when I was in elementary school, as did Great-Grandfather. My father, one of the few people who came close to understanding me passed to mark my journey into adulthood while his father followed closely behind. Great-Grandmother outlived them all but of course she has wandered on as well–along with a score of other family and friends.
As a minimalist the treasures they left behind are a sweet torment: the pictures, the quilts, the photographs and all of the other items are pieces of my heart yet left unchecked they can cause untold misery by cluttering up my life.
For ages I wrestled with this dilemma. Do I follow the path of so many others and stuff these things in a box? Do I want the pain of opening that box on nights that I’m feeling sentimental? Can I deal with the flow of pain, memory and tears if I stuff them away each time?
Every time I went to put their things away I could see their faces. It was like I was shoving them into that box and closing them out of my life! It felt disrespectful to the love I had for them; cruel to their memories and just downright wrong to hide them away when they are such a big part of me.
I’m not quite sure where the inspiration came for my solution. Did I see it somewhere, or is it a culmination of ideas I’ve gleaned over the years? Perhaps somehow they gave me the idea as a solution to that which tormented me so. Regardless, I’ve gotten quite a few raised eyebrows over my methods but it is what it is.
My grandparents were rather creative and were known for their old-style quilts. These fabric treasures were hand-crafted on an old treadle sewing machine and I can still imagine their feet working the pedal as they stitched and stitched with the rhythm.
Every winter these quilts are washed and draped upon my walls to give extra insulation. I imagine the old days when ladies would make wall quilts and tapestries to help warm their castle walls and now my grandparent’s quilts help warm the walls of my castle as they soothe my soul on winter nights.
I even drape them across my trailer windows; while the windows are sound, they are single-pane and the extra layer of insulation makes a tremendous difference on cold winter nights. They are joined by the quilts that Mother made and a few I constructed myself.
I even have a small quilt my youngest made, her very first, mounted proudly upon my gypsy walls in winter.
Those bright, bold yet sometimes faded colors completely change the look of this place in winter. They transform my home from a cool, sparse refuge to what I imagine sometimes as a tent, raised upon the wilds of the earth–or perhaps a gypsy wagon, complete with a lack of rhyme or reason but filled with love and memories.
In spring they are washed again but not completely put away. Daughter likes to use them on her bed, so I allow her to rotate them on occasion. For some reason they comfort her, despite the fact that she never met the hands that crafted those stitches.
Shortly after we moved here two years ago her very favorite–a quilt crafted out of pieces of colored polyester that reminded me of an explosion in a pants factory finally came to its last legs. The material had outlasted the thread and the squares were now held to the backing solely by the yarn that my grandparents had patiently tied, the batting long absent.
Katie and I took that piece of our history and placed it upon our burn pile. As we lit it we each thanked these ancestors who had given us such a priceless treasure as we sent it in smoke back to them.
We just couldn’t bear to toss it in the trash, discarded like so much rubbish, so we cremated it like Father’s bones and sent it back to them.
There are other treasures, like Grandmother’s nightgown. It is a piece of white flannel that Grandmother made into a sleeveless gown some unknown era before she died. It is apparent that she didn’t use a pattern and the simple fabric was well worn when we went through Grandfather’s house after his death.
I fell in love with that simple gown and since no one wanted it I took it home. As I donned the nightgown I felt like I was being hugged by Grandmother herself with that simple piece of cloth and still it exists today, hanging in my closet.
On summer nights I don that piece of Grandmother and allow her memory to wrap around my heart. The fabric is even thinner now than it was when I got it all of those decades ago and even yet I still wear it. One day I shall create its descendant–but I think I shall wear it still. Perhaps it will become a piece of the one I make to carry on the tradition? I don’t know yet, only that it is a piece of Grandmother that I do not wish to let go.
Mother was an artist. When she wasn’t crafting the quilts that line my winter walls and warm our beds she painted. I no longer have all of her artwork, but the pieces I have were photographed for posterity and no matter where I live her works have a place of honor on my walls. Every week, month, or just whenever the urge strikes I rotate with one of her others. This keeps her memory fresh and her spot in my heart secure. Her little statue of an Oriental lady sits in my kitchen–It stays displayed in different spots because when I look at it I see her eyes.
Father wasn’t one for memories, but when he would drink they would come: colorful word pictures of an exotic land where he fought and killed and almost died during the Korean War; snippets of his days working on a Georgia chain gang and memories of hoeing corn on a hillside for Great-grandfather to earn ten cents a day.
He carried his memories in an old black box: it contains photos of his Airborne training, his purple heart with clusters and even the Bronze star he earned on my birthday, years before I was born.
The sheaf of papers and photographs are warped from their long storage: to remove and frame them seems disrespectful to the man who kept his memories so tightly locked away. Instead I scanned them and uploaded the memories to the cloud for safekeeping; to honor him I store my tiny treasures in that old wooden box alongside his and I visit him whenever I access my things.
I do display the little glass train he gave to my grandmother one day as a child. She had displayed it proudly on her special shelf to the date of her death and beyond, it was still there years later when Grandfather finally passed. It is broken now; the result of the childish curiosity of my older daughters but I have it still. Another piece of my heart that lay scattered across the plain of my existence.
Last but not least is Grandmother’s tea pot–and the pretty tchotchkes that Katie loves to give. Grandmother’s tea pot is my change jar while Katie’s pretties are displayed, rotated, stored and eventually given back to her as she ages and her interests change. Any drawings are carefully photographed and the originals fade away–except for her two canvas paintings that I rotate with Mother’s, of course!
These are the pieces of my heart–small snippets of memories of people long gone and the methods I use to keep them alive in my heart. I tried to make the use respect the person–Father’s favorite plate and bowls are used daily in our dinnerware, for instance–but I did not stuff them away.
I do not want to have boxes of things that I open to make me cry. I want to celebrate the life that they lived and the joy that they brought me. This was my solution, for as I rotate and use these priceless treasures I celebrate their lives and share their stories with my daughter to pass their memory onto her. I hope that she will honor their life by passing them on to her children when that time arrives, and perhaps she will include a few about me!