Unsticking the things that bind us

SATURDAY, DEC. 31, 2011

In the Harry Potter books, a good Sticking Charm is like wizarding Superglue; what’s stuck stays stuck.

Sticking Charms, however, aren’t restricted to the magical world.

For example, in September I was putting a quart container of homemade applesauce into the refrigerator, when in a flash, it flipped from my hands and slammed straight down onto the floor. With terrific force, applesauce shot up into my face and hair, and stuck. It was a complete “I Love Lucy” moment. Other victims included almost every exterior in sight and the inside of the fridge. Shocked, I quickly pawed a big glob off my face and began quickly cleaning surfaces before the sauce hardened like glue.

We’re still finding petrified blobs of sauce on kitchen cabinets, above the cabinets, and underneath the glass refrigerator shelves. We recently discovered splatters on our 9-foot-high ceiling.

That applesauce had a doggone good Sticking Charm.

I thought of this when Richard’s mother in California died, just before Thanksgiving, and we spent the following sad week going through her effects, household and office. Although she wasn’t a hoarder, Nancy had lived in her home for more than 50 years, past her ability to care for it. Our task felt like an archaeological dig through the detritus of her life.

The excavation revealed that she had pretty good Sticking Charms on a whole lot of stuff, including clothing and household goods well beyond their expiration date. Richard and his two brothers spent days carefully examining and shredding old bank statements and other papers, as many contained family Social Security numbers. Many personal items, previously unseen, mystified us as we tried to determine provenance, family value, and her wishes regarding them.

It was hard to walk through her house, now a museum of her life full of treasured objects acquired over eight decades. Most useful household items had takers. But I suspect it would have broken her heart to see how little we in the family wanted or could take of her large collection of Chinese vases and art objects.

It made Richard and I think about our own house, and it was rather horrifying. Although we’ve kept fairly clean, we realized how many pointless Sticking Charms we have on too much stuff, faithfully moved like precious relics from house to house. Using another Harry Potter analogy, these things mostly reside in our own Room of Requirement (ironically, my nickname for our storage room): boxes of childhood mementos we never look at, vinyl records we can’t play, letters and books we don’t read, glass and china we never use. And the worst (as we now know): file cabinets and boxes full of papers.

No one in their right mind wants to have to play archeologist at our place.

Why do we hang on to this stuff?

There’s guilt – how can we pitch even a hideous family heirloom? And sentiment. And thrift. And a closed basement door, so it’s all out of sight. And – wait for it – procrastination.

But I think memory is the most powerful Sticking Charm of all. Our stuff says, “I exist.” It defines who we are and is saturated with memories and emotions. Who wants to give their soul, so to speak, to Goodwill?

Though we like to think someone will love and treasure as we do our art objects, books and music, it’s a complete fantasy. These things are for us to enjoy in this life – our life. They’re not investments in other people’s futures; loving relationship is. No one needs grandma’s ugly vase to remember us. If they do, they better put dibs on it now.

Because we’ve made a resolution for 2012 (assuming the Mayans goofed and we’re here to fulfill it); we resolve to unstick some serious Sticking Charms from a whole lot of stuff. It’s sad and difficult to deconstruct a life, and we don’t want to burden others with our own museum.

Some day someone will thank us for it.

You can reach Deborah Chan at tabbytoes@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists/.

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