Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grandma's Attic

Today, a lifetime (and in many cases, several lifetimes) worth of memories were scattered. Things that defined my childhood. Things that defined my grandparents. Things so familiar from my very earliest days that even in my adulthood I never stopped to question them.  Why exactly was that creepy, bald doll always sitting in the corner?  Who keeps a 50 gallon copper kettle sitting in their living room?  How many generations have sat on that couch before me? What era was this carpet purchased in??? ( that last one actually did cross my mind a few times). But everything else?  everything else just was what it was supposed to be when I walked into Grandma's house.   I asked no questions. I needed no answers.  For the 31 years that I've been living (and presumably, for at least 31 years before that), Grandma's house simply "was".  Until today.

The farmhouse and estate are magnificent. Taken for granted as grandchildren, it wasn't until recently that I came to realize how obscure it was to talk about 'the pump house'  or the 'summer house', or to go look for something in the 'wash house'.  Grandma has a whopping 17 grandchildren, and I guarantee that not a-one of us ever noticed that Grandma's house was "vintage".  I doubt if she even noticed. 

In my childhood home things changed periodically. My family moved a few times. My mother would redecorate a room now and then. There was the normal and somewhat predictable ebb and flow of 'things'. But not at Grandma's house. Grandma's house remained largely the same year after year, decade after decade.  Even generation after generation.  Grandma's farm had received the century farm award (some 20 years ago). An award given to farms that have been in the same family for at least 100 years.  When my husband was deployed and I took my 18 month-old daughter and newborn son (I know! what were we thinking?!?!?) to stay in the old farmhouse (her home afforded us more space and more freedom than my mother's home and my mother-in-law's home combined), Grandma would pause her lawnwork long enough to make us lunch and tell us about how she and my Grandfather lived in that very living room for the first years of their marriage.  As we watched my 4 (!) week old roll over for the very first time atop her kitchen table, she would tell me that she used to lay her 5 babies atop that very same kitchen table while she washed dishes or tended to supper.  She would show me black and white photos of stoic subjects dressed in heavy, dark frocks sitting in the very same front lawn that my daughter was playing in. She would close the gap between me and what was, essentially, my ancestors. 

But today 400 people gathered inside the barn I once played hide and seek in (talk about scarier than The Blair Witch Project!) and placed bids on the thousands of items that are as familiar to me as the back of my hand.   And tonight as the things that I once could see, touch, hold, and even smell become things that exist only in my mind, I realize two things:

First:  The people we love are not defined by their things, or even by their surroundings.  My Grandmother will be the same woman tomorrow that she was yesterday.  The next time I see her, will be in different surroundings than I've ever seen her before, but she will continue to be defined by more Grace, beauty, and courage than I've ever seen in anybody.  We sometimes make the mistake of connecting memories to things (this is sentimentalism), but the truth is, the memories live in our minds.  The things are just excess.

Second:  As I think about her possessions scattered...all over Lancaster County, and as far as 6000 miles away (yes, my mom paid $140 for a box of doilies...for me!) I realize that we spend a lifetime collecting things... so that when we are 77 years old we can turn them over to a newer generation that's still collecting things.  Why?  Do the things give us value?  Do they define us?  I've already realized that they didn't define her.  We're defined by our peace, patience, trust, beauty...even by our ugliness, hatred, anger, or jealousy. But not by our ice boxes and domino sets.

In the end, when I'm 77, I want my Grandchildren to say that they love me not for my piano and china sets, but because my love is perfect, my spirit whole, and my Grace complete.  I love you, Grandma!