Tuesday, March 07, 2017

My Shared Pain: No One Wants Family Heirlooms Anymore

I have a plethora of pretty things from my mother that no one wants. I'm paralyzed with procrastination... too pained to donate fragile, lovely homewares cherished by my mother, yet burdened with dust-catching items I rarely, if ever, use.   

Seems I'm not alone in feeling discouraged that our adult children are uninterested in enjoying, then passing finely crafted family heirlooms down to their children.  

The Greatest Generation, raised in scarcity during the Depression, treasured stuff. The generations before them collected stuff for use or as mementos of distant or deceased family or ancestral lands.

Last month, Next Avenue, a PBS newsletter for those over-50, published its most popular article ever, "Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents' Stuff."

Reports PBS:
"This post about a heartbreaking, pervasive problem struck a minor chord in a major way: It was the most viewed article in Next Avenue’s history, garnering more than 1.5 million views, 32,000 Facebook shares and 5,500 comments, and was printed over 3,100 times."
Comments to the Next Avenue blog post fell into five categories:
  • "I so relate"
  • "This is so sad and difficult"
  • "I feel guilty about what I had to do"
  • I won't let this happen to my kids"
  • "You're wrong. People want these possessions." 
Here's a few of the comments that touched a heartbroken nerve in me... 

"My children have already told me they don’t want any of our antiques because they don’t care for ‘brown furniture.’ Drives me crazy that they prefer cheap furniture made of pressed sawdust and glue, but what’s a mom to do?"
"My mother was a serious collector of imported English Victorian antique furniture and spent her weekends throughout my life polishing it to an inch of its life … I cried when her table and chairs were loaded onto a trailer- I hated them but I loved them as well!"

"It’s a good thing our deceased loved ones can’t see what’s happening to their prized possessions. Many of them struggled through financial woes and 'made do' during hard times. To see their things pitched and tossed would be heartbreaking for them."

"My mother… always preached to me the 'value' of this or that…. Well, I’ve learned that nothing is worth anything if no one wants it... I couldn’t even find buyers for her genuine gold and gem stone jewelry and had to liquidate it for pennies at one of those 'we buy gold' places. I still have a storage unit full of stuff 20 years after her death because in her memory I can’t bring myself to just give it away."

One particular comment rings painfully true... " My mother made me promise to never get rid of certain items so now they sit in the basement because I would feel guilty selling or giving them away."  

You see, months before she passed away in April 2016, I told Mother that I have her 68-year-old white satin wedding dress.  And I asked her, my unsentimental mother stricken with Alzheimer's, what she wanted me to do with it.   She paused for a long moment, then slowly responded, "Keep it.  Please keep it." 

I'll likely keep my mother's crumpled wedding dress until the day I die. She considered her 1948 wedding day to be the best day of her 86-year-long life, and she asked me to keep it.  I can't bear to give it away to strangers. I could have her dress made into charming decorative pillows for my two daughters, niece, and granddaughter.  But sadly, I don't think they care that I long for them to value something of my mother... It's just more stuff that doesn't match their taste. 

Among other family heirlooms gathering dust in our cupboards and two china cabinets:  two punch bowls, one crystal with 18 matching handled punch glasses and two crystal punch ladles. A demitasse set of eight porcelain cups and saucers, hand-painted with Audubon-like birds. English and French bone china teacups and saucers. Tiny wine glasses.  Some cool 1950s pyrex and melmac bowls. Plus an exquisitely embellished linen tablecloth gifted to me 40 years ago by my maternal grandmother. And much more. 

Two distinct types of parting thoughts were reflected among comments to the Next Avenue post:

Despair... "In the future there will be no personal history … only ‘in the moment’ … no graves, no personal letters, no hard copies of long-lasting photographs, no heirlooms …. no footprints in the sand." 

Laissez-faire... "Personally when I die if someone enjoys something of mine great but it’s not me!! Do whatever you want with my stuff after I die, but keep a good memory of me in your heart!!"   

... and "It doesn’t bother me that my girls are not interested in our stuff. It’s just stuff, really."

I'm working on the latter.  And looking for a seamstress to make heirloom pillows from Mother's wedding dress, including a special pillow for me. 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Golden State Woman: Focused, Not Crazy Anymore

My longtime personal blog has new life!  

A new name, new look, and new excitement, as I (finally!) embrace my new phase of life... 65 and never happier or more free.

I will still be blogging about the usuals:  faith, family, food, books, travel, the great, green outdoors, and whatever catches my fancy.  

Welcome, friends. to GoldenStateWoman.com, formerly TheCrazyWoman.com.  I feel focused, not crazy anymore. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Blessed Foolishness to Think You Can Make a Difference

On this New Year's Eve, I offer a prayer from my Christian faith. Please ponder it through the lenses of your faith beliefs...

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

"May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you will have a passion for justice, equality, and peace.

"May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain into joy.

"And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the thing which others tell you cannot be done.


(Note - The stained glass window is by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and is entitled Peace. Per the United Nations. "The 'Peace Window' was a gift from the United Nations staff members, as well as Marc Chagall himself, presented to the United Nations as a memorial to Dag Hammarskjøld.  The 'Peace Window' was dedicated to his memory on 17 September 1964, exactly three years after Dag Hammarskjøld, then the second Secretary-General of the UN, and 15 other people with him died in a plane crash.")

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is Post-Election America Fraying at the Small Edges?

America, or at least my little corner of America, is making mistakes lately because businesses and people seem to be moving too fast, too frantically, especially since the elections.  Micro mistakes, I grant you, but mistakes that hint of new unreliability... 

Over the last couple days, I've experienced...

A medical office sending prescriptions three times to the incorrect pharmacy location, an inconvenient one, despite clear requests. (Turns out they were using an incorrect FAX number. Offices still FAX?)

Amazon losing an important package, then finding it, then losing it again, then delivering it to their own surprise. Beaten up.

Sporadic mail delivery in our neighborhood.  One recent night, our beleaguered, hard-working carrier was doling out mail at 11 pm.  The confused carrier yesterday confessed that he's a temporary import from another city because our post office is understaffed for mail volume.

Scrutiny of our cable bill revealed monthly charges of $15.99 for a movie channel we've hardly heard of, never used, and certainly never ordered. Have you tried to review your bill with cable TV customer service, much less demand a credit for back over-charges? Yeah, been there now...

Even El Pollo Loco asking me three times to come back for a small order I pre-placed earlier... 

All workers were consistently pleasant, kind, and helpful.  All workers seemed genuinely overwhelmed. 

This aggregate of mistakes could be the sign of a growing, vibrant neighborhood pacing ahead of service providers. Ours is, indeed, a growing, vibrant area with new local businesses and new housing. 

These could be signs of organizations deliberately under-staffed to meet year-end profit targets, a common management technique. 

This, of course, is God challenging and testing me on patience. You know, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." 

But it also feels subtly like something more. Like tiny details of my tidy American life are fraying at the edges. Like the assumed reliability of comfortable, trustworthy suburban life is suddenly a bit less reliable.   

I unconsciously equate these to the grand traditions of our great country fraying at the edges.  I unconsciously sense that life in these United States feels less stable than before the election.  

And I wonder about and pray for our American way of life, both at home and across the nation.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Nobel Vindication of My Moody Youth: Bob Dylan's Music

The music of my moody youth won the Nobel Prize in Literature today. I feel vindicated for my then-maligned taste, and relieved that the world sees what I saw, heard and felt... and still see, hear, and feel. 

I was deeply obsessed with one album, "Any Day Now - Joan Baez Sings Bob Dylan" a double-album released in 1968, when I was a high school junior. My conservative parents worried I was weird... 

I still have it, my original album from all those years ago.  The only vinyl I've kept, after selling hundreds of others. The album remains part of me. It sits here on my desk, propped against the wall. 

Dylan's most famed tunes... "Like a Rolling Stone," "The Times They Are A-changing," "Rainy Day Women," even the iconic "Blowin' in the Wind"... are not on this album. (I love those songs, too, mind you. Can never refrain from singing along. Just ask my embarrassed husband.)

The album's sixteen powerful tunes, instead, are ones of empathy for others, of struggles of the downtrodden, of dreams for a better life and world.  The poetic songs demonstrated love for others... prisoners, immigrants, drifters... like I'd never before heard, witnessed or experienced, and it touched my heart.  Over and over and over... Still does. There but for the grace of God... 

Included on "Any Day Now," which is the refrain from one of the album's songs, "I Shall Be Released," are:
  • "I Pity the Poor Immigrant"
  • "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word"
  • "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine"
  • "Tears of Rage"  (with extraordinary acapella by Joan Baez)
  • "Dear Landlord"
  • "The Walls of Redwing"
  • "One Too Many Mornings

And "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," 11 minutes, 18 seconds long, and I knew every word, every breath, every pause.  My poor mother... I must have played this cut a thousand times, and never at low volume, as I immersed myself in feelings of Bob Dylan's sacred lyrics and score. 

"Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound..." wrote the Committee.   And, I might add, the subjects of his music... empathy, struggles, unfairness, rebellion, keenly observed experiences of others... are entirely consistent with the body of literature honored by the Swedish Academy since its 1901 founding. 

Congratulations to the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature for awarding the 2016 award to Bob Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."   Indeed! 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and NFL Football

I savor the small rituals of each season, but especially of my favorite, autumn.  

As I write these words, I'm sipping my first Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of the year while watching the first Thursday night NFL game of the season,  the Denver Broncos v. Carolina Panthers.    
My fall calendar lights up again with activities next week after a long summer sojourn... Living Vine bible study and small groups, Homework House volunteering to neighborhood kids, two book clubs.  

Our kitchen is brimming with fall organic produce for heartier meals... tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, onions, herbs, and early apples.  

My writing calendar is full, too, with an active book project, blogs, and an inspiring conference in San Luis Obispo in a few weeks. 

And today is my beloved son's birthday.  

I feel blessed and deeply grateful for a fresh, creative start to a new, different season in my life. 

Welcome, fall!  I've been waiting for your warm glories... 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Facebook Victorian-Style, Circa 1881

I've long been charmed by American culture around the turn of the 20th century, from about 1880 to 1920.  Little charms me more than this Autograph Book of my maternal great-grandmother, Jessie Belle Gibson Hutchison (1862 - 1952).

Autograph books were a fad in Victorian-era America, from about 1850 through the 1880s. Until replaced by yearbooks. Telephones. The internet.  And Facebook... 

Per Wikipedia, autograph books originated in Europe in the Middle Ages to record family genealogy, and among college students. "Traditionally they were exchanged among friends, colleagues, and classmates to fill with poems, drawings, personal messages, small pieces of verse, and other mementos. Their modern derivations include yearbooks, friendship books, and guest books."

In fact, Princeton University archives house a collection of "219 autograph books from 192 members of classes between 1825 and 1884. The books were used to collect not only the autographs of classmates, but also good wishes, bits of favorite verse, letters of farewell, or reminiscences of shared events during undergraduate years."

I appreciate my great-grandmother's Autograph Book for the extraordinary genealogy record she later, at age 71, listed in it in 1933.  

But even more, I'm charmed by the eloquent, sweet, serious, clever, often funny autographs collected in the early 1880s from family and friends by 19-year-old Jessie Gibson of farming community Sigel, Kansas

And it strikes me how much civility and graciousness Americans have lost in the last 150 years, from Victorian-era autographs books to Facebook today. 

For your enjoyment, a small sampling...

"Take this, it is a gift of love
That seeks thy good alone.
Keep it for the writer's sake,
And read it for thine own.
Your friend,
Laura M. Flagg, April 17, 1883"

"Our lives are albums written through
Of good or ill, of false or true
And as the angels turn the page of our year
Oh may they greet the good with smiles
And blow the ill with tear.
Is the wish of your friend...
Eva Cade, September 8, 1881
Lawrence, Kansas"

"Forget me not is all I wish,
And if it proves too hard a task,
Forget me.
As ever your friend,
Hattie Frazier, November 10, 1883
Alfred, Kansas"

"Oh believe me dear Cousin Jessie when I say that through life, 
my best wishes shall be for Thy happiness, and
a pure desire that we may spend eternity happily together
in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Adda C. Petefish, October 20, 1881
Belvoir, Kansas"

"When you stand before the tub
Think of me before you rub
And if the water is too hot
Cool it, and forget me not.
Effie Hutchison, October 27, 1883"

"Miss Jessie,
Youth is life's bright morning
Age is coming on.
Watch and pray and labor
Youth will soon be gone.
Why do we hope? Disappointment will fret us
And laugh at our dreams ere our wakings begun.
Why look to the future? That will not forget us
If something is lost, there is more to be won.
Yours Truly,
James F. Morris, October 28, 1881
Richland, Kansas"

And from Jessie's future husband, my great-grandfather, Charles Hutchison (1858 to 1941) , who she married in 1884...

"Tis hard to part with those we love
Tis hard to part tis true
Tis not as hard to part with some
As tis to part with you.
Charley Hutchison, October 1883"

Charming, indeed.  I mourn the graciousness and innocence of those pre-Facebook days.

(In the photo, from left are Charles Hutchison (1858-1941), son Alpha (1884-1962), daughter Marie, my grandmother (1897-1987), daughter Gertrude (1886-1962), Jessie Gibson Hutchison (1862-1952), daughter Clara (1888-1975).)