There’s an old phrase that pops up occasionally. “Setting it free” or “Returning it to the wild.” No, they’re not talking about animals. They are talking about possessions. Books, clothing, kitchen items no longer used–anything that can be recycled, re-purposed, useful in a new way, or to someone else.
I’ve been downsizing for years, both because I had to and because I wanted to. I surrender books only when I am convinced I will never re-read them; I give away good clothing that was acquired in swaps or thrifting when it no longer serves my needs. I decided that fifteen years was long enough to keep compromise furniture from a marriage that was history, and gave away two rooms worth to people who are using those things and loving them. That’s a successful exchange with the universe.
But there are things that I simply cannot surrender–things that I will never set free, that my family will have to decide what will happen to them, because as long as I have breath, I will not let them go.
Lately I’ve been looking for a box large enough and nice enough to contain these things. But nice boxes are expensive and handmade ones beyond my means. So I continue to carry many of these things in an old comics box. Because I can’t set them free.
What kinds of things fall into this category? One is on-going. I used to be a big holiday card sender, but as my illness grew worse, I grew sporadic about sending cards. Some friends, reading between the lines, persisted. Cards, newsletters, pictures. I kept the most recent envelopes to have addresses, because address software kept dying on me. But I kept all the pictures. Baby pictures, school pictures, vacation pictures, pet pictures–if you sent it to me, odds are I still have it. Even the ones in newsletters–I keep a sample of those, too.
What will I do with them? I have always wanted to put them all on a board, like a collage, or on a raw wood table, sealing them under layers of acrylic. So I can look over and see all those people who have made the journey with me.
For now the pictures are in that imaginary box. The box that will never leave me.
I recently added (in my mind, because it is attached to my keychain) something my niece made for family members. It’s a tiny globe with a picture of my late father on one side, and in his handwriting “Love, Daddy” on the other side. Of course she got those words from me, the person who kept cards (not all of them–that’s impossible for travelers–but some of them) because I actually had his family signature. It was a brilliant idea, and it’s in the “box,” along with thank-you notes she wrote as a child and cards and letters from friends who have “gone ahead.”
There’s also a tiny basket woven by my great-grandmother. Her middle son, my grandfather, was born in 1900, so she reached a mighty age. She was a terrifying Southern matriarch, who was always a little suspicious of me. I was too smart for seven and always thinking behind my silence. That worried her, I now realize. She knew that a woman who was too smart would have extra challenges in the world she knew. But she valued all of us, in her way, and one Christmas we all got small baskets she made in a craft class designed to keep her hands supple. It might amuse her that I kept it; she probably would be happier to know we kept the bible stories for kids (because she wrote in it…shuhhh.)
Letters from my late mother, in her neat, tiny introvert hand–the handmade Raggedy Anne and Andy Mom made me. (I almost finalized my beloved cat when she discovered the doll feet were spongy and bit them several times.) The bookmark I made for my SF series, tattered, that Mom used for twenty-five years. And the crowning glory of the collection, my father’s infamous cockroach trap. I found out recently both my youngest sister and my mother remembered him making it in the basement, chuckling to himself, happy with the results.
It’s–well, it’s a guy joke, really. He grabbed one of the tiny dental boxes he used to send things through the mail, back when dentists actually made dentures and crowns for their clients. A man who enjoyed working with his hands, Dad had paint for creating dioramas when he did trains. He took scrap lumber, painted two tiny blocks, and created the masterpiece you see in the photo. He wrapped it in a twenty dollar bill–a fortune during my immediate post-student poverty years–and mailed it to me. There’s an extra note reminding me that roaches come to sticky old food. He’d forgotten that if you lived in an old apartment, if the owners didn’t spray, nothing was going to protect your possessions from bugs short of moving out, which I did.
I’m not sure I ever told him I kept it, all this time.
The tiny clips that hold those dental boxes together have rusted away; the paper tape that sealed it slowly sloughs off. But I have it tucked in a bag, where I can find it.
Because it’s too precious to set free.
Do you have things that are too important to let go? Do you have a box, real or virtual? What do you have that is too precious to let free?