Sunday, November 01, 2009


I reach into my mailbox. Gone are the days when I enjoyed this routine. Mail is trash. Mail means bills or notices or reminders. Mail is a nag.

But this time, a puffy manila envelope fills the box (and I have a large mailbox). I open it. It’s a salmon mohair shawl. From my mother.

My mother is a generous person, but she is not a gift giver (see previous post). Besides, if there is a holiday to be had now, it’s her 86th birthday, coming up in a few days.

I call her. Mom, it’s lovely, but why??
You got it. Good. You don’t remember it? I don’t. I bought it when we were crossing the ocean, returning home to Poland (we did several crossings on the Queen Elizabeth in the 60s and I do indeed remember that she favored big puffy shawls to fend off cool breezes).
I’m still puzzled. What prompted you to send it?
The management here [she lives in an independent living senior apartment place in Berkeley] has given us several warnings: they want everyone to downsize. They’re tired of getting rid of people’s things when they die. I’ve been taking things to Goodwill, but the shawl seems too good to just give away. I sent you one and your sister the other. You remember the shawls, don’t you?

My mother lives in a little studio and she had already downsized so much that you could hardly think of her as being tied to possessions. My father, in our family apartment in Warsaw, has perhaps twenty times the stuff that she does. Still, when I last visited her place, I was surprised to see stacks and piles taking up most of her shelf and table space. Papers, folders, magazines, stacks of folded polo shirts and cardigans in varying shades of burgundy. Stuff grows. The seeds are there, we provide water.

They’re going to do inspections of our apartments to see if we got rid of enough stuff. They’re right. We’re all so attached to our small things, but who’ll want any of it after we’re gone? Young people (she lumps me into this category), they have their own stuff.

I’m not a collector. I dislike clutter. I throw away things freely and going through closets and pulling out rarely used items is, to me, as deeply satisfying as pruning an overgrown garden.

Still, I have my tiny things. The art on the wall. A beautiful painting that was in our home as the kids were growing up. Small paintings picked up in remote village galleries in France. But even here, I’m stretching. I love my soup pot. Does that count? A small bowl from my daughters. Yes, I love that little dish. And a cake plate. Juice glasses. Oh, oops – those juice glasses went with my ex.

Sunday. The day I clean the condo. I dust a shelf of things I’m determined to get rid of soon. I pick up a chestnut. I brought it over. A souvenir of sorts. From a walk in a park. But which park? Warsaw’s Lazienki? Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens? I don’t remember.

I toss it. I never want to be attached to anything again. People. Just people. And my laptop. I’ll make an exception there.