Autumn, like spring, is traditionally a time for cleaning up and casting off. This year, as I bagged clothing to give away, canned goods for the Boy Scouts, and books for the library sale, I had a few thoughts on the subject.
Marie Kondo’s ruthless approach to divestiture (the things kind, not the money kind) is good advice on so many levels, and not just when you’re downsizing. The more we have, it seems, the more we want, and —here’s a purely practical point—the more we have, the more time and space it takes to maintain any semblance of order in our lives. However…
We were never as aggressive as Kondo advocates, perhaps because Hubby and I periodically purge closets and books and so forth for anything that no longer fits, has been read at least once or full out rejected, or simply isn’t used. That’s been a lifelong habit for both of us. Still, there are some regrets. While material things in the long run have little worth, those that connect us with our history can have untold value. I have lost some of these along the way—some by accident, some because the choice wasn’t mine, some because it seemed at the time a good decision and later proved not to be.
One day not long ago, my darling cousins Dorothy and Liz called. They were out and about on Cape Cod, wondering if I knew the addresses of the houses where my late uncle and his family had lived. Liz and Dorothy spent more time on the Cape than I did simply because of their geographic proximity, but we all remembered Uncle Paul and Aunt Edi’s magical home in the woods, with the reservoir in front and a state park all around. I could tell them exactly how to find that house, even after almost 50 years, but not the little Cape they’d lived in before that, or the one they’d retired to, which I’d never seen.
The phone call made me remember, with great longing and more than a tinge of sadness, my father’s lifelong correspondence with his brothers and sisters. Because we lived so far away, Daddy, who was one of 14, wanted to be sure that I “knew” my aunts and uncles. From the time I was ten or so, he shared their letters and daily lives with me… from my uncle’s tours of duty overseas to my Auntie Teresa’s adventures making Easter bread, from new babies (lots of them!) to sickness and tragic losses, from the strike at the paper mill or the record snowfall in Maine to the everyday experiences of the siblings who left Maine for Massachusetts, Texas, and Alaska, just as Daddy had settled in Pennsylvania. Daddy rarely saw his faraway family, but he loved them dearly and was always there for them when he felt they needed a lift. Writing letters kept them in each other’s hearts.
We made periodic trips up north during the summer months when I was a kid; but beyond those letters, I didn’t have a true relationship with my Maine family until adulthood, when visits there became more frequent. With each visit, I felt more an integral part of the family and more enveloped in their unconditional love.
My aunties’ and uncles’ lives were very different from my own, but reading their letters while I was growing up had created the foundation for a bond that even now, several years after the last one’s passing, I will always treasure. That bond easily transferred to the embracing one I share with my cousins.
When Daddy gave up the house and moved in with us a few years after my mother passed, much that was precious was given away or just tossed. Maybe he never kept the letters to begin with—I hadn’t thought to ask when we were moving him out. But here’s the thing. I’d give anything to have them back today, now that all of the brothers and sisters are gone. Anything. There is no remedy for regret. So when you are Kondo-izing, think twice about what to keep and what to pitch.
Note: I wrote about writing letters once before. Here’s the link if you’d like to read the earlier post.