Stocking Up

Posted: May 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Daddio, Discoveries, Hoarding, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Shopping | 19 Comments »

I must’ve forgotten to lock my car the other night.

Living in Oakland this results in one of three outcomes:

1) Someone steals the car. This is not a risk for me as I drive a 1999 Subaru with a dent on the passenger side that goes from the front door to the back bumper. The interior is covered in pretzels and dessicated mini carrots, and at least one sippy cup of sour milk is lodged under a seat somewhere. If anything, car thieves leave Post-It Notes on my windshield suggesting I look into some of the new leasing deals.

2) Someone rifles through your belongings. Generally this involves stealing change, cell phone headsets, and Luna Bars or Slim Jims (depending on your dietary preferences).

3) Nothing. Whenever my car’s been left unlocked and nothing has happened I freak out a little. Worried that Oakland is losing its edge or something. Then I get insulted. “What—my parking change is no good for you?” I yell to the homeless man picking through our recycling. “There are some perfectly good Elmo board books in here, only lightly chewed,” I bellow. “You can still read all the words!” I find myself merchandising old maps of downtown Sacramento and broken Crayon bits to anyone passing by.

I’ll get them to want to steal my stuff if it’s the last thing I do.

Well yesterday—on my birthday—after a rousing early-morning argument with my husband, I frantically shooed the running-late kids to the car where I see the contents of our glove box—insurance papers, registration, Children’s Benadryl, a box of raisins, an old work ID with a really good photo of me, Band-Aids, hair clips, a black Sharpie, and several tampons—strewn over the front seat.

Yes, I said tampons. Do YOU keep tampons in your car?

As I scooped everything up to shove back into the glove box I was surprised to see just how many tampons I had. (While feeling slightly offended that they weren’t taken. What is WRONG with my tampons? They’ve got easy-glide applicators! I have a variety of absorbancies! Are they not good enough for my neighborhood hoodlums?)

I ended up counting NINE emergency tampons. This, it appears, is one of those things I do. I have the thought, “I should keep a tampon in the car in case I ever need one.” Then three months later, I have the same thought. And without looking to see what’s there, I toss another one in.

As I mentioned this car is a ’99. Given our long history it’s a miracle the entire hatch back isn’t teeming with feminine products.

And as far as I can tell I’ve never once needed an emergency tampon. And if I did, I’d probably forget they were there. And simply drive to a store to get some.

I’m not sure what the scenario I’m envisioning for their use. That we’re driving through the temperate Berkeley hills and get stuck in a snow bank? Then I start menstruating at a phenomenal, un-soppable rate? And while rationing out the small box of raisins between my cold hungry children, I suddenly experience stigmata? Thankfully I’ll have some light-flow Tampax I can tie to my wrists to staunch the blood, freeing me up to write a life-saving emergency message on a 1998 map of the Gilroy Outlets with my black Sharpie.

See? It all MAKES SENSE.

But really, irrational thoughts about what’s needed to protect our families just comes with the territory when you’re a mom. I can assure you that before having children I never thought that having a bold-colored permanent marker in my car was likely to be the difference between my survival and dying in the parking lot of my neighborhood Trader Joe’s.

Whenever a snowstorm is predicted in Rhode Island my father calls me to report on the scene at the grocery stores. This is especially entertaining since George Bush Senior has been in a grocery store more recently than my father. Nonetheless Dad claims that the stores in town are packed with folks frantically stocking up on bread and milk. These people could be lactose intolerants who haven’t touched carbs in years, but they’re blindly compelled to purchase these things at times of imminent snowfall. It’s a natural instinct you just can’t fight.

Me? I’m the same way. But it doesn’t take a storm for me to buy two boxes of Wheat Thins EVERY TIME I GO TO THE STORE. I get agita imagining what might happen if we were to ever run out of those delightful whole grain crackers. Not that we even eat them all that much.

I also buy black beans every time I shop. And that Near East rice pilaf. “Do we already have some of this?” I wonder. But because I’m the one asking the question, I’m unsurprisingly unable to provide the answer.

So always, always, I roll on the safe side and buy more.

This habit causes Mark to bellow from our basement pantry things like, “Embargo on Cheerios!” Followed by him muttering, “For the love of God we have no less than 15 boxes of cereal here.”

Which leads to me call down the stairs, “How’re we doing on black beans?”

As far as tampons go, I feel quite certain that the supplies in our cars alone could take me through to menopause. At which point I’ll likely make regular trips to Walgreens to pick up my estrogen prescription.

But, don’t you worry. Should anything go awry when I venture three blocks to the store, I’ve got raisins, Band-Aids, and a black Sharpie marker. I am totally ready.

What do you obsessively stock up on?


Family ‘Savings’

Posted: December 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Hoarding, Holidays, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Parenting | 1 Comment »

It’s the time of year when I worry about the girls eating the poinsettias. Since someone told me once that they’re poisonous. But for all I know, it’s an urban legend.

And the thing is, Kate and Paige have heretofore expressed absolutely no interest in ingesting poinsettias, or any other house plants, flowers, or fauna. But that makes no difference in the mind of a fretful Mama. I’m convinced that they’ll suddenly find a wayward poinsettia leaf—or possibly an entire plant—mouthwateringly tempting. Like in those Looney Toons cartoons when someone who’s hungry looks at something and their pupils suddenly turn into ham hocks.

I mean, I’m just sayin’ it could happen.

And just to exacerbate my anxiety, those damn leaves seem to curl up and fall off the frickin’ plants at an alarming pace. It’s a full-time job monitoring the floor for delicious-looking dessicated poinsettia leaves.

Alas, since potentially-deadly flowers aren’t an adequate expression of my holiday spirit, I spelunked down in the basement yesterday, on a quest for our Christmas decorations. Our basement is huge, which is both a blessing and a curse for me and Mark. On accounta we like keepin’ stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, our pack-rattery hasn’t taken on epic scary call-the-doctor hoarding-esque proportions. We have lots of stuff, but we’re frighteningly organized about it all, which takes the sting out a bit. Even so, it’s bad enough that it bugs us both. Like compulsive hand washers we know our hands really aren’t dirty, but we just can’t resist the urge to wash them again.

And of course, just to make things interesting, our sickness takes different forms. Mark, for instance, has every box from every software program and gadget he’s ever owned or tested for work. (He’s the gadget guy at Wired.) This, as it turns out, happens to be a LOT. Or, as they say, a shit-ton.

Me? My brand of crazy revolves more around things like china, silverware, and table linens. Suffice it to say if you ever need a table cloth of any size, color, or fabric type, I’ve got one I could lend you. With 12 matching napkins.

I inherited this affliction from my mother, as well as her vast and magnificent table linen collection. The woman squirreled away napkin sets like alkies hide gin bottles in toilet tanks.

The preponderance of vintage, striped, square, round, rectangular, indoor, outdoor, and tiki-themed tablecloths I own is made even more shameful and absurd due to the fact that we bought a farmhouse-style dining table several years back. Not only does it not require tablecloths, but they look kinda dumb on it.

Mark and I both also like books. Very much so. We could open a library with cookbooks and back issues of cooking magazines alone. And Mark’s Shakespeare anthology from college is in the depths of our basement somewhere, along with various other textbooks that I had the good sense to throw out. If you’ve been hankering to reread an annotated version of King Lear, I’m just saying I could hook you up.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago we were watching CSI. (Don’t judge.) And the cops kicked a door in on a house. Except the door didn’t move much. Until it fell forward, and revealed a solid mass of, well… stuff. Floor to ceiling stuff packed so tight and high and deep it sealed off the home’s entire front entryway. (And, we’d later find out, concealed a couple dead bodies too.)

When the show ended it was about 10:30 or so, but I was fired up. “These magazines!” I cried to Mark, who was lying prone, half-asleep on the couch. “Did you already read this?” I bellowed, shaking a Wine Spectator in his face. “Can I recycle your college alumni newsletter?” I was in a cold sweat, pawing at the shelf under the coffee table, yanking out everything and interrogating Mark about why we still owned it.

It wasn’t pretty. But neither was the image of us sealing off the path to the front door some day with back issues of Sunset and Vanity Fair.

At the farmer’s market that weekend I bumped into my friend Shira and her adorably cute little fam. She’s a professional organizer. I mean, I’m not sure that’s what she’d actually call herself (an organizational architect? a professional neatnik?), but she helps people cull, categorize, store, and toss their crap.

Shira’s website makes me want to take a bulldozer to all the toys in my house, toss on a crisp linen dress, then place a vase of white wildflowers on an end table and become one with all that is simple, clean, and beautiful. It’s inspirational. And, for someone like me, aspirational. Like I said, I’ve got the organization part down—it’s the less-is-more mentality I’m struggling with.

Anyway, when I saw Shira I couldn’t wait to tell to tell her clients about that CSI episode. It’s good medicine.

As for y’all who live outside the Bay Area and can’t benefit from Shira’s services, check out Motherboard’s story on clutter-free livin’. After grabbing armloads of Christmas tree lights, red candles, and my Mom’s old pinecone wreaths, and staggering from the basement upstairs, it was nice to read this and see I’m not the only one who’s swept up in a holiday-induced organizational, stuff-overload panic.

Last Christmas my friend Meg reported on the under-his-breath mutterings her decidedly UN-Scrooge-like husband made as their wee ones unwrapped presents. “Where the hell are we going to PUT that thing?” he’d mouth to her over the kids’ heads.

We’re hardly Manhattanites, but us Bay Area dwellers who aren’t Rockefellers live in fairly small spaces. That huge hobby horse Grandma sent may make Junior’s eyes gleam with excitement on Christmas morn’, but I’m with Jack on this one. Where the hell do you stick the thing after the tree’s down and wreath’s off the front door?

Well, thankfully for us, we’ve got the basement.

1 Comment »

The Table

Posted: September 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Hoarding, Husbandry, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | No Comments »

Mark predicted it would happen.

The table was an antique, but it was rickety and lame. On its journey from the East Coast one of its legs came loose. So Mark took it down to his basement workbench lair to work his handyman magic.

Once the glue set, we turned it upright and set it in our entryway. But when we stepped back to admire it, we saw that the now-sturdy leg had been glued on crooked.

It was like the table was determined to be imperfect.

But many of my mother’s possessions were that way. To wash clothes at her house you set the dial to a line she’d drawn on the machine’s control panel. (God knows how much trial and error it took to find the exact spot that resulted in a well-washed load.)

Anyway, by the point we noticed the leg was all dooky, there was no way to break it off and reset it. And unless you stared at it, you’d never notice.

So, we sort of propped it up. Mark rolled his eyes. But how do you argue about your wife’s dead mother’s table? He insisted it wouldn’t last long, and agreed that we could keep it there while it did.

The thing is, there’s a glacier-sized expanse in our basement that’s packed floor to ceiling with most of Mom’s former furniture. End tables, chairs, a kitchen table, a hope chest, and endless endless endless linens. Things that either don’t look right with our other stuff, we don’t really need, or that just don’t fit in this small house. Things I imagine I’ll spread around our dream manse one day, thrilled I had the good sense to store them all these years.

So, even in its lame duck state, I was delighted we could wedge something of Mom’s into active duty.

The story, of course, leads to a crash, right? A deafening, frightening crash that I heard just as I stepped onto the sidewalk. I was fetching grocery bags from the car and had left Paige roaming free-range indoors.

I flew up the stairs, dove into the house, and saw Paige unscathed on the living room rug, cradling a doll and blinking up at my terror innocently. Then at my feet I saw two overturned potted orchids, a bottle of wine I’d set out for my sister, and an overdue library book. Oh, and the table itself, pitched forward onto the floor, with two of its legs snapped off and lying amidst the other detritus.

I hadn’t even touched the thing as I’d walked out the door. It only took the slightest waft of air to have it crumble. For it to give in to its broke-down nature.

I couldn’t bear to deal with it. Could I have gotten it fixed? Probably. Could I have saved its parts, if only because they were Mom’s? The thoughts crossed my mind. But I fought the deepest pack-rat part of my soul. I pushed aside the instinct that I have to hoard even pom-pommed tennis socks and baggy-kneed PJ bottoms because they were my mom’s.

So when Mark came home, he carried it out the front door, around the house, and set it alongside the garbage cans.

When I emptied the recycling bin the next day I saw it there. I considered hauling it back inside. I considered putting a FREE sign on it. But then I got distracted, went in, and forgot.

Yesterday morning, I hauled a toxic overfull diaper-pail bag to the trash. And as I heaved the thing into the can (using my porta-potty mouth breathing technique), I looked down to see that the table was gone.


Mom’s old table. Scuttled off by some delighted sidewalk scavenger. Swallowed up by the city. Never to be seen again.

No Comments »

The Blue Ball is Dead! Long Live the Blue Ball!

Posted: June 17th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Hoarding, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | No Comments »

Peggy and Gary, Mark’s mom and stepfather, left today after a great visit packed with NorCal sightseeing, eating and drinking, and excessive granddaughter adoration. One of those visits that make you wonder why we all live so damn far away. I wasn’t at the airport this morning for the final farewell, so I don’t know exactly what took place. But even before Kate and Paige were on the scene, Peggy was known for getting teary-eyed at goodbyes, especially when she didn’t know when she’d see Mark next.

If my memory serves me, my mother and I used to cap off most visits with a rousing argument. It made parting so much easier. Even without a separation anxiety spat, my mom was hardly the crying type.

There’s actually a famous story in Mark’s family about when his mom and sister dropped him off at college for the first time. When they left to head home, Peggy was crying so hard she somehow managed to drive off the road into a corn field. (Mind you, they were in rural Minnesota where such fields are abundant, not Manhattan.)

Needless to say, Mark and Lori will never let Peggy live that down. But now that I’m a Mama myself, I can totally empathize. How in God’s name do you deposit your beloved sweet baby at college–off in another state or even a different time zone–to not see them again until Thanksgiving, if you’re lucky? I’m hoping by the time Kate turns 18 homeschooling will be a popular collegiate option. Or that she’ll insist on living at home and attending a nice local costmetology school so she can be near her Mama.

Even though the kiddies are still so young I’m finding I’m already nostalgic about things. At the park the other day there was a three week old baby I was mesmerized by. “A baby!” I thought to myself, as if it were such a novel thought–an unattainable object of desire. All this while I’m holding my own four-month-old. But, you know, Paige seems so big already. And the thought that she’s probably the last of the little McCluskys makes it that much harder to watch her mini milestones pass by.

Mark, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to share my sentimental streak. Nor does he share my on-again off-again yearning for another baby. In fact, after a long evening of bouncing Paige on the big blue yoga ball–our favorite method for getting our fussy babies to sleep–he turned to me and said, “God I’ll be happy when I never have to do this again.” And despite how my own lower back was crying out for an end to non-stop bouncing, my mind was aghast at the thought.

When that ball goes away, that means Paige will have grown up a bit. She won’t be a teeny newborn who needs the motion of her Mama’s movements replicated to soothe her. She’ll nearly be independent!

And another thing. When that ball goes away after Paige, it’s retiring. It will never be called to serve again–at least for anything other than yoga. And still for Mark there’s no looking back. I think he mentioned something about gleefully taking an ax to it…

Well, unbeknownst to him, the other day as I was vacuuming the house I lamented that that huge ball, wedged under the lip of the TV stand, was taking up too much space in our small living room. And really, we hadn’t had to use it for weeks. So I figured I’d stick it down in the basement where we could always grab it if we needed to.

The impulse to stow crap in the basement comes up often, so it wasn’t until I was walking up the stairs that I thought, “My God. We are now officially finished with the baby-bouncing segment of our lives.” May the big blue ball rest in peace.

No, no. I didn’t cry. But hey, it’s on to a new phase and goodbye (forever) to an old one.

Another thing that Mark doesn’t know–not that I’ve actively been hiding it from him–is as Paige has been outgrowing clothes I haven’t had the heart to give them away quite yet. For now I’m taking some comfort in just putting them back in the age-labeled plastic bins on the shelves downstairs. (See? The basement is my enemy and my best friend.) How can I let go of the soft froggy jacket with the satin bow that Lindelle got for Kate? Or the brown cable knit sweater-suit Mark got at his office shower?

In part, there’s just so much cute stuff. I can’t just give it to Salvation Army. But there’s also the thought that there won’t be another baby here to wear it some day–a thought I clearly haven’t gotten my head around.

And for the record, I’m not planning to do some soap opera poke-a-hole-in-the-condom move for a third child. In my rational, non-emotional moments I truly agree with all the reasons why we’re better off as a family of four. It’s just–babies are so sweet!

Is this how my brother-in-law’s parents ended up with 15 kids? Perhaps.

Maybe I just need to reflect more on my neighbor’s deadbeat 37-year-old son who’s just moved back home. Oy! Imagine finally being back in the swing of what life was like without kids, then being tossed into telling your grown son to pick his socks up off the floor. Even for a crazy love-addicted Mama like me, that just seems wrong.

I’ll have to remember that when I’m veering off into a corn field 16 years from now.

No Comments »

Diary of a Pack Rat

Posted: May 27th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Hoarding, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Mom | 1 Comment »

Whenever I throw something away I have to announce it to Mark. I’ll just scream out to him wherever he is from my position near the garbage can. “I’m throwing out these holey socks I’ve had since 7th grade!” Or, “I’m throwing out these flip flops with the paper-thin soles!”

I throw things out so infrequently I require positive reinforcement when I do so. It’s not like Mark is someone who has facility with tossing things himself. If anything, he understands how hard it is to part with crap, so he empathizes and cheers me on.

I’d say it’s a genetic trait since my mom was utterly incapable of parting with things. But it didn’t get passed down to all of us. My oldest sister Marie is living proof of the backlash of being the child of a hoarder. She throws things out with clinical ease, utter emotional detachment. In fact, at one point she told me she heard that things don’t last in the freezer for more than two weeks, so whatever she was keeping in there wasn’t around for long either. I don’t think that, aside from the humans, she’s got anything in her house that’s more than a few years old.

As the youngest, I represent the opposite side of the spectrum–though Ellen and Judy do their fair share of packratting. In fact, Judy has a storage unit with the contents of an entire apartment that she hasn’t lived in for years, so that counts for something.

At least everything that I hoard–with some exceptions–has some redeeming value. When my mother was selling the house we grew up in, which she’d lived in for over 40 years, my sisters and I slogged through three floors full of stuff. There were doll-sized afghans knitted by church bazaar ladies. Patterns for outdated outfits for pre-teens. Twin bed frames long unassembled, woven palm frond fans, mismatched shirt boxes from Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, circa God knows when (definitely pre-80s). And endless amounts of books and magazines. The woman had every Woman’s Day, Gourmet, and National Geographic ever printed (though not in any sort of order that might make them collectible), not to mention a pristine vintage set of The World Book Encyclopedia. (The Wold Book was the Internet back when I was in grade school.)

Much of this crap filled the eves of the attic, but much of it was in the living space. It wasn’t like she was a crazy-lady in a cat-filled house, but anywhere where there might be a couple magazines in a “tossers” house, there would be a treasure trove in which one could perform a sociological study of fashion and food trends through the decades in my mother’s house.

And her old magazines weren’t enough. You know when you go to a yard sale and someone is selling a carton of Bon Appetit magazines from 1974-1976, and you think to yourself, “Ha. Good luck selling those, buddy. Who the hell would buy those?”

Well, if the sale was east of the Mississippi, my mother would, that’s who. My cousin Nancy who is for all intents and purposes a sister, and certainly my mother’s fifth daughter, used to find ways to lug armloads of magazines out of my mother’s house after a visit, so she could recycle them. We would laugh until we cried talking about Nancy’s attempts to sneak out with a bag of yellowing National Enquirers (the dirty papers, as my grandmother called them), which my Aunt Mary would distribute to my mother after she and her sister, Mimi, had read them. Sometimes Nancy would almost get caught and oooh you didn’t want to cross my mother when you were trying to get rid of something she thought she needed. That was never an easy conversation, and always ended with you setting down the bag and Just. Walking. Away.

When we were getting ready to move her to her smaller house we’d argue with my mom over the smallest items. Up in the attic in a shoe box full of other random crap like pin cushions and crochet hooks I’d found a handle to a coffee mug–truly a white handle to a random mug, not even a china cup–and I remember my mother blew her stack when I tossed it in the garbage. “I’m holding onto that,” she scolded me. “That mug is somewhere and I’m going to glue it back on.” It would have been funny it was so absurd, if it weren’t for the fact that you’d been shoveling through stuff all day and wanted to just sit down and cry with exhaustion and frustration.

After my sisters and I had five of these arguments each with her, all over various worthless items, my mother grew incredibly defensive and upset over the whole enterprise. She was trying to hold onto all these pieces of her life, and we were thoughtlessly plowing through it all and willing to just throw it all away. I can see how the panic of something she really cherished getting discarded could be unnerving, but my sisters and I held staunchly to our side of the situation. We were blinded with drive to get more than 40 years of accumulation moved, organized, and/or somehow staged in a way that made it look appealing to a potential buyer.

Eventually we somehow managed to corral the save-able stuff, toss some of the crap on the sly, sell the better stuff we all agreed we didn’t want but someone else might, and get her into the sweet smaller house that she loved, without ever coming to blows or needing family mediation. Net net we must have somehow grown from the experience.

Part of the thing with my mother no doubt had to do with her having grown up in the Depression. She never used tea bags twice, but man did she scrape every last drop of batter from a mixing bowl. And in the way that you buy whatever laundry detergent you had growing up because that’s just what people use, I definitely picked up some of my mother’s Depression-inspired habits without realizing they were anything other than the way things are done.

When Shelley and I were first roommates I went into the fridge one night after dinner and saw that Shelley, whose mother was a bit older than my mom, had wrapped up the small heel of a tomato in Saran Wrap. I laughed when I saw it, thinking that even I would never have saved that, but Shelley would probably not hold onto flannel nightgowns for as long as I do, so it all evens out. Besides, how can you make fun of someone who is suffering from a version of an illness that you have?

At any rate, tonight I threw out a perfectly good shirt of Kate’s. Well, it used to be perfectly good, but it must have been in the laundry pile downstairs with some food on it because it got blue speckles of mold on it–even after going through the wash. The shirt was actually pretty new, but I knew it wasn’t ever going to come clean. So, after rejecting the thought of saving it as a rag, I just tossed it in the garbage can.

Maybe some day when Kate is helping us clean out the house so we can move to a smaller place, she’ll thank me for having let go of some things along the way.

1 Comment »

Christmas in May

Posted: May 22nd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Hoarding, Mom | No Comments »

I ventured down to the basement today in search of my bag o’ bathing suits. Our basement is pretty big for a California basement–or at least everyone who sees it seems all surprised by it. And of course, when there is space to fill with crap, one tends to find crap to fill it with. Mark and I excel in pack-rattery anyway. So there are about 25 boxes of books we have no room for upstairs, bulky kitchen appliances we don’t often use, furniture from my mother’s house, boxes of out-of-season clothes that we never unpacked when we moved but are maybe now in season again (hard to tell), and a new layer of baby-related gear and clothing.

So, I was spelunking through it all. Within 4 seconds I’d forgotten why I was down there and just started checking stuff out, and trying to cull through and organize it a bit.

I’ve always liked to store things properly, but with my mother gone, I feel especially protective of the things that were hers. A) It’s old and/or valuable, or just something I really like, and B) it was hers and even if it was an old sock I’m sentimental about it. (I truly have held onto pairs of socks that were hers. Wait for me to show up on Oprah with some psychiatrist who is guiding me through throwing out theadbare tennis peds while I’m cry convulsively.)

After focusing on the clothing situation (piles to bring upstairs, piles to donate, oops–this goes in the maternity box), I A.D.D.ed my way over to the holiday section. With all my Christmas stuff plus my obsession with Halloween costumes, it’s practically a holiday “department.” I realized that some Christmas boxes could clearly be condensed. One just had bubble wrap in it that had once protected ornaments, and two long cotton tubular sacks with pink closure ribbons at the ends. I had no idea what the hell they were for and was going to (uncharacteristically) throw them away, when I noticed a paper note pinned to one that had “12 days of Christmas” written on it.

Oh my God. How cool. They were the custom-made storage bags for the Christmas wall-hanging and Christmas tree skirt Mark’s great grandmother, Grandma Kohl, had made. For some reason, standing there in the basement, I wanted to almost cry. Thank God I didn’t throw them out.

Mark’s great grandmother is long gone. I’m pretty sure she’s Mark’s mom’s mom’s mom. And as far as we can tell she’s the red-head who is genetically responsible for Kate’s strawberry blonde locks. The women on Mark’s mom’s side of the family LIVE FOREVER. I mean, these women have amazing staying power–into their 90s most of them. And I think they have tended to be pretty on top of their games into their dotage.

So, somewhere in her 90s, Grandma Kohl, crafty woman that she was, made Mark and his sister Lori (and likely all her other great-grandchilden) these amazing Christmas tree skirts, and wall-hangings that depict each of the 12 days of Christmas. They are tacky and flashy felt-and-sequin things that are truly exquisite. I have loved them dearly since Mark’s mom sent them to us this fall. (In his bachelorhood Mark never had need–and likely desire–for them.)

Both pieces have incredible detail–depicting everything from lords a’ leapin’, to Santa and a chimney, to partridges in trees with little porcelain pears hanging from them. They were assembled not only with flamboyant artistry, but with incredible care and attention to detail. The Christmas tree skirt even had a line marked with loosely-sewn white thread indicating where to cut so the circle could be wrapped around the tree. They stir up something in my inner Martha-Stewart soul. I guess it’s respect for such quality work, together with a love of family, traditions, Christmas. You don’t spend so much time on these things unless you love Christmas, and the people that you are making them for. And to think that the woman was in her 90s!

When Peggy sent them to us, it was oddly like getting a gift from the grave for Grandma Kohl. Here we were, still newlyweds and with a young baby, setting up house. It was clearly time for us to have and love these pieces. They are now part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Something Kate’s red-headed great great great grandmother made for us without even knowing Kate or I would be there to enjoy them.

I managed to easily find the tree skirt and the wall-hanging and to carefully move them from the box and garbage bag they were in to the cotton storage bags. Thank you, thank you, Grandma Kohl. I promise to always use the proper storage bags to keep your hard work safe, and when she is old enough, I will tell Kate about how special these decorations are that you made for us long ago. I’m also saving your hand-written tag–it’s something that seems to connect you to these things, and to us, even closer.

No Comments »