Extra Pulp: Hidden Treasures

From one generation to the next, times may change, but some family mementos are meant to be cherished.

A friend recently dragged me to an estate sale, where a sign on the front door said “75 percent off bears.” We were confused until we entered the back bedrooms, which were completely filled with dusty stuffed bears in all shapes and sizes. Bless this lady’s heart, I thought. Nobody wanted her lifelong collection of bears! In the rest of the house, her other precious possessions remained untouched. Looking through her things, I realized how different our generation is from that of our parents and grandparents.

Antique armoires have been replaced with walk-in closets. Instead of heavy bookcases we simply use a Kindle app. Since it must be polished, sterling silver is too high-maintenance, and I’ve never been to a party outside of church and my grandmother’s house where anything was served from a crystal punch bowl. Millennials getting married today aren’t even registering for that stuff anymore. Rather than rolling the dice with gifts selected by relatives, they’re asking for Amazon gift cards. Impersonal, yes, but you have to admit, it’s practical.

When we entertain today, it’s often spontaneous, casual and involves lots of children, which means not using fine china. While our parents and grandparents have lived in one home their entire lives, our generation doesn’t think twice about moving. My husband, Bryan, and I have lived in 11 houses, condos and apartments in 16 years of marriage. My mom has offered hand-me-down furniture, but we’d rather choose something ourselves from IKEA, where we can quickly assemble a piece just right for our current space, then throw it out later without guilt. We’re the Marie Kondo generation, where less is more. We’re more mobile and less cluttered than ever before. But in our freedom, are we too detached? Have we lost all sentimentality?

Instead of writing letters, we type shorthand emails, frequently emptying our virtual trash cans. Instead of mailing birthday cards, we post on someone’s Facebook wall. Instead of recording hours of home videos on a VHS tape, we take 30-second snippets with our iPhones for Instagram stories that disappear in 24 hours. And instead of creating scrapbooks, we store thousands of photos on a cloud. In this age of convenience and technology, everything is fleeting. Nothing is permanent.

Shortly before graduating from high school and going off to college, my mom and I were feeling nostalgic. I was compiling notes, photos and awards from my senior year. Mom went over to the antique secretary in our living room that had belonged to her grandparents and retrieved an envelope. Inside was a letter that her grandmother Pauline had written to a friend in 1898, exactly 100 years before. In exquisite handwriting, her formal and flowery language stood in stark contrast to my crude notes written to high school friends, where we began with “What’s Up?” and ended with LYLAS (love you like a sis.) We’ve digressed even more today with text messages without any words at all but with GIFs and emojis.

Seeing my great-grandmother’s letter was like discovering a treasure, getting a glimpse into her life as she headed off to college at the turn of the century. Since she died before I was born, I had only known my great-grandmother by the framed photograph of her in our house. But running my fingers over the same paper she held when she was my age made her come alive.

When my own grandmother passed away a few years ago, there was nothing in her house anyone really wanted, apart from some old family photographs. Her modest dishes had come from the grocery store, the piano needed major repair, and nobody had any use for the antique thread-making spinning wheel. My brother took her old guitar, I got her Bible. And we both have the quilts she handmade for us as children.

It’s not about the value of the items but the meaning they hold. When my husband’s grandfather died, rather than Bryan inheriting all his 1970s era ties that still smelled of cigarettes, he opted for a pocket knife that had been part of his grandfather’s collection. All the stuff in the world won’t bring our grandparents back, but cherishing one special item is comforting, a tangible link to loved ones lost.

A few plastic bins are stacked in our garage of things Bryan and I  have saved over the years—trophies, newspaper clippings, old journals and greeting cards. We’ll continue to fill them with special mementos, like a time capsule that tells our story. While our children may think most of it is junk one day, maybe deep in those boxes, they’ll find something to treasure. Something that reminds them of us.

Categories: Community