Things too Precious to Set Free

Dad's Roach Killer

The roach killer

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.

The Holiday Photo Stash

Decades of holiday pictures

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.”

Items too precious to let go

A last gift from a great-grandmother

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?


About Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Cat Kimbriel is working on a a contemporary fantasy about curses, ecological change, and very different ways of looking at the twilight worlds. She's still working on a short Nuala piece and mulling over a new Alfreda novel. You can find her fantasy & science fiction, including free samples, at her Book View Café bookshelf. These books can also be found at major online booksellers. Her personal blog is here, and you will find her on whatever social media currently interests her. Cat builds worlds that contain compassion and justice -- come join the journey.


Things too Precious to Set Free — 13 Comments

  1. Oh, my, yes. I’ve been trying to cull some of them, but there are a lot of them that I just won’t–someone will have to toss them when I croak. Though I have put notes on a few, in case they might be considered heirlooms. Like the shawl my great-grandmother crocheted. I wore it all during the seventies. It’s pretty delicate now.

    A teapot my parents were given for their (hasty) marriage when I was coming along. It’s cobalt blue. My parents didn’t drink tea, but my mom brought it out for her bridge parties until the ladies got comfortable enough with each other to admit they all drank coffee. I use it sometimes, but mostly I like to look at that beautiful, intense blue, with gold edging.

    Lots of little things that remind me of people now gone, or that people gave me–I bet they’d be surprised that the thing, worthless in itself, means a lot more to me than it did to them at the time.

    • Exactly. I am packing up things from my mother’s house, and it might surprise her what is going home with us. Yes, the heirlooms. But also the pitcher with the almost cow on it, videotapes of the grandkids, the soft Kachinas a local artist made, their felt starting to disintegrate. The purse with the tiny ivory gull attached.

      To precious to let go.

        • The problem with that is the expense–and finding a trustworthy place. This has been a worry of mine for years.

        • My brother-in-law has a program to do it, so they are in a box for when the huge family van arrives to take them back to his house. Dad made one compilation of ancient film family stuff (30s-60s) and then newer videos–I paid to have that video made into a DVD.

          My BIL is now in charge of handling all the rest we found, that Dad couldn’t do dealing with his health and mom’s.

  2. You might consider the archival question. You don’t want stuff to deteriorate as you keep it. Paper, especially, can go south fast — we’ve all seen crumbly old paperbacks. Store valuable paper items in sheet protectors (cheap at the office supply store); you could further organize them into 3-ring binders. If they’re already fragile or valuable consider getting acid-free mylar envelopes. Squishable or fragile items should be boxed, so that you can stack them in larger boxes, on shelves, etc.

      • There are vast resources for this kind of thing — you can buy acid-free boxes on line in every size imaginable. Boxing is particularly important if you’re going to move the item — it’s not going to get into trouble sitting on a mantelpiece, but transport is dangerous.

  3. So timely. Thank you for making me smile in the midst of the clutter-clearing!

    As for the file of paper memories–scan them all, and share them with your family who will love seeing them, and keep them to pass on as family history and heritage.

    • Yes, scanning may commence soon. But there is this–changing values in each generation. I am getting my sisters together next holiday to try and identify everyone in pics while someone still remembers. I meant to ask my mother the next time I saw her–but she was so ill it was too late.