Stuff: Love it, Gift it, Take it, Love it
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
My friend, Debbie, suffered an incapacitating stroke in her 40s For 25 years, she has been fiercely independent, rarely asking for help. Recently, she called to say she had “caved” to her grown children’s request to move to assisted living. That means downsizing.
“What will you do with all your stuff?” I asked, thinking of her impeccable taste reflected in a house filled with beautiful things. “My daughter wants most of it,” she answered. “She likes antiques.” “You’re lucky,” I said. “You’ll get to see your things when you visit. Most kids today don’t want anything, and it makes their parents sad."
My house was overstuffed when my mom moved to a retirement community a few years back, but I gratefully accepted some of her favorite things—an antique wash stand, a Pennsylvania cupboard, an Irish linen tablecloth, some silver serving dishes. She likes “visiting” them.
I wear a ring every day that my grandmother gave me—she received it from her first boyfriend in 1910. And I enjoy top-notch kitchen tools a favorite aunt gave me toward the end of her life, her own cooking days long past.
It seems to me that giving things you care about to people you know will care for them is gaining a little bit of immortality.
Thirty years ago, our next-door neighbor, Harry, was a lonely widower whose wife, a onetime Pittsburgh socialite, supposedly married him despite the objections of her wealthy family. A "regular guy," he was an amusing contrast to the imposing Tudor house with elegant trappings he had inherited. On hot summer evenings, he hung out on an improvised version of a Pittsburgh “stoop”—a cheap aluminum mesh lawn chair in the center of his driveway. My big orange tomcat kept him company, and if I baked cookies, I would take him a plate.
Harry had no relatives, so when he moved to Florida, he gave me a few things, including a set of silver plated flatware. Sadly, he died only a month later, and his only friend, who lived across the street, is also gone. But every holiday Harry’s flatware supplements my own silver—and I think of him as I set the table. “I bet I am the only person in the world who remembers Harry,” I tell my husband. And I think I am.
I think of another friend often because of a parting gift—Michael, who died of cancer. When he knew his days were numbered, Mike asked me to go with him to the funeral home to pick out an urn and make advance arrangements. Afterwards, we went to a pub, where we planned and he paid for a celebration of life he would attend in spirit. At the end of that very bizarre day, he gave me a delicate sterling silver bud vase that had been his mother’s. “Would you keep this to remember me?” he asked. I won’t pretend I fill the vase with fresh flowers regularly, but with a nice silk rose in it, it brightens my living room. I don’t mind polishing it.
So, if you are moving on to a new chapter, consider giving a few things to people you care about. And, if a friend or loved one who is turning the page offers you a keepsake, accept it. The gift might spark joy in both of you.