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Front Porch: Old things wrapped in memories

Thu., Sept. 8, 2011

It’s faded and threadbare and its edges have begun to unravel. I pulled the white-flowered pink towel from the dryer and folded it, carefully smoothing the frayed trim.

Each time I find it in the laundry I set it aside to go in the rag pile, only to snatch it back and replace it in the linen cupboard.

The towel once belonged to my grandmother.

She and Grandpa lived on a 20-acre farm/orchard in Hayden, Idaho. When Grandpa bought a feed store, he sold the orchard and turned the fruit packing house on his property into guest house, they dubbed The Ritz.

The cozy, self-contained space featured a living room, bedroom and a pink bathroom. It’s where visiting family stayed on overnight visits to Grandma’s house.

When Grandpa died and Grandma moved into a retirement home, she gave the towel to my mom, who gave it to me 25 years ago when Derek and I married. The towel proved to be the perfect size for wrapping up a wiggling freshly bathed baby.

I’m not a keeper of old things – I’m not a collector or a saver. I don’t hoard birthday cards, books, shoes or sentimental keepsakes. Raising four sons in a small house has turned me into a vigilant anti-accumulation warrior. Clutter makes me claustrophobic.

Yet this unneeded towel remains in my cupboard.

From my window, I look out into the backyard and see a wheelbarrow leaning against the shed. Its rusting body has seen better days and the wheel squeaks a bit. It isn’t a streamlined thing of beauty. No splashy coat of paint or slick plastic pieces.

It was my grandfather’s wheelbarrow, then my Dad’s and now Derek’s. One of my most treasured photos is a picture of my dad with my oldest son sitting in the wheelbarrow. Ethan is wearing his grandpa’s hat – their faces creased with huge smiles.

Derek could buy a newer, less cumbersome wheelbarrow, but he won’t part with this one. Each time he grips the steel handles, he’s connected to my dad and my grandfather. They don’t sell history like that at Home Depot.

Another piece of history hangs in Derek’s closet. After his father died, he helped his mother go through some of his dad’s things. Derek had no need of dress shirts, work shirts or jeans, but his mother insisted he take one thing – his dad’s Norwegian wool sweater.

The sweater once belonged to Derek’s grandfather. His dad often wore it on Christmas Eve as his father had before him.

Derek brought it home and we marveled at its traditional hand-woven design with its pewter clasps and intricate embroidered trim. He pulled it over his broad shoulders, so like his dad’s, and he smiled.

Nowadays, Norwegian sweaters feature similar traditional patterns, but they’re made with much lighter weight wool. A new sweater might be more comfortable – more practical, but Derek will wear this one with pride. It is old and heavy with the memories of the men who wore it before him.

While memories are precious and don’t take up much space, sometimes the nubby feel of a terrycloth towel, the musty smell of a sweater, and the heft of a wheelbarrow, can bridge the gap between then and now.

I still don’t like clutter or collecting. Accumulating stuff feels suffocating. But some old things are worth keeping – worth preserving.

When touching these pieces of the past, I close my eyes and am connected – just for a moment – to loved ones now gone, but never forgotten.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists.


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