They played The Old Rugged Cross at my grandfather’s funeral; my mother had remembered him asking for it some years before. I’d always liked the song, one of the routine invitationals from the Baptist church of my youth. For the rest of my life, I will think of him wistfully when I hear it. Before we drove out to the country cemetery following the funeral, the Mennonite minister gathered our small family in a circle and prayed. He repeated the song’s refrain, drawing from it that we were the final trophies that grandpa had laid down. I’ll never forget the lightning bolt power of that simple analogy.
I’ve begun slowly laying down my own trophies. In a few years, we’ll be empty nesters…I intend to be ready. I’ve already weeded down the holiday decorations to only what we use every year. Twenty years of Disney VHS tapes have gone to Goodwill. I recently went through the only trunk of the four in our house which wasn’t empty. Jammed with papers and keepsakes, the minimum age of every item in there was 30, with an average closer to 50. I got rid of two large trash bags of cards and newspaper articles and momentos, but it still seemed full when I was done. I can’t yet bring myself to part with the doll my late aunt brought me from her trip to Russia, or the glass bells my late mother-in-law gave me when we were first married. I found the shoe box, which must be older than I am, containing the old plastic toys I played with at my great-grandfather’s house as a small girl. It is my only memory of him; he died when I was four. I got rid of the broken cow and small doll that were in the box, but I kept the handful of cowboys and Indians…they went back in their ancient shoe box in the trunk. When our son was here last month, we went through the last few boxes of his old things. That was hard: it’s one thing when it’s a distant family member that you barely remember vs. your baby. It killed me to get rid of the memories he didn’t care to keep, but I knew it’s pointless to try to hold onto the past. I did quietly tuck away in my closet a few of the castoffs–a plastic bag of GI Joe accessories; a Hot Wheels carrying case, full; and a tiny pair of cowboy boots. Those memories now smile down at me from a shelf when I get dressed in the morning. Still, I know that one day I will part with them, too…I’ve only postponed the inevitable.
As I slowly draw closer to the end of my life, I will eventually part with my grandmother’s china, which a couple of times a year I go through the effort of washing by hand both before and after using to enjoy yet one more family dinner on. I’ll eventually give away the glass rocks in my yard which grandma got on a trip to Pilcher, Oklahoma with her retired sisters. Those eight siblings stayed close their entire lives, and the rocks make me smile not just because they’re pretty, but because they remind me of them laughing together at all of those family reunions. I will eventually, one by one, part with the treasures in every room of my house which are meaningful to me. As I do, it will be ok, because it will mean that I’m about to be reunited with those who gave them their meaning.
“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” –Bob Dylan