I’ve been cleaning out a lot of stuff.
Of course I have been saying that for a while now. But with me, because I am much too sentimental, I have a problem with the process of letting go.
Somehow the material things of those I love are proxies for them. This isn’t all that unusual, the issue is that I take it to new levels of which I am about to prove to you.
First it was Jake’s stuff in 2005. Unfortunately he was a pack rat, like me. Deployed to Iraq, we kept the APO busy. Every week he had me send him something. Everything from his baseball mitt to guitar strings. It only makes sense that on his return, he would have to load several footlockers to bring all that stuff back.
Then there was my Mother’s move from her garage apartment into my home in 2011.
Before Silent Bob left, he had helped me unload Mother’s apartment, which had moved from collecting pretty things to full on hoarding. We shoved everything into the garage. It was stacked to the ceiling, occupying every bit of available floor space. With my attempts at disseminating over the last 6 months, the contents have now vomited out the garage into loosely organized heaps of crap and junk under the carport. However, interspersed within those piles of broken vases and Creepy Dolls (youngest son’s proclamation), there are notes that have recorded every gift her family ever gave her, a couple of notes herself that chronicle a memory loss and her worry, as well as a personal add for a male companion who liked to travel. And more than one gold necklace.
It has not helped that lately, when she wants to be depressed, she watches the Hoarders. (It is conversely sad that despite the convicting nature of Hoarders, it is a welcome distraction from the Great British Baking show. Even old women apparently like the bad boy. And one that bakes… For heaven’s sake, Paul Hollywood, find another job.) Now every time Mother limps through the carport, she looks at all of the piles accusatorially, calls me a hoarder, and suggests I should get ‘help’.
Then there was this year. My Silent Bob didn’t really collect much, which as it turns out make this ‘letting go’ crap even harder.
I am at the point where I wonder if Heaven won’t be boring because God is going to put me in charge of everyone’s crap and the difference will be that I am going to like it. (Since I know I am not going to Hell, and Paradise has no tears, I will count this possibility as one of the more profound mysteries of God if it turns out to be true because its kind of hellish here now.)
So I am rummaging around in the 1970’s era bar in my house yesterday, which is an absolute disaster because somebody has bought way to damn many dishes (me, there is clearly a trend here), and found the wine rack SB made out of a cardboard box that has his handwriting on it, and I am trying to figure out the meaning of life, my brain chemistry literally reeking of sentiment, and I find the ‘gumballs’.
Sixteen years ago, or maybe it was seventeen, my Jake decides that besides instituting proportional responses to the rock throwing, bare footed, skinny little kids that met his convoy in Iraq, he was also going to hand out candy. Or gum. He figured out they weren’t interested in the MREs he’d previously tossed their way unless there were cookies.
Jake, always the progressive, had already figured out online shopping and ordered 10 pounds of gumballs from China. The problem was China wouldn’t deliver them to Kuwait, but they would to Sunstone.
He warned me.
“When you get them, will you just mail them to me?” he messaged me on AOL. (I may be the only person who still remembers AOL messaging with fondness.)
I mailed them. (Well, thats not exactly true. Like all the time in my life, people have come to my rescue, helped me, aided me, befriended me.. and in this case someone mailed that 10pound package across the pond and beyond.)
When Jake’s trunks came back from Iraq, and he’d gone on to glory, I made my first attempt to get rid of stuff. The trunks smelled like an army surplus store, various camo jackets and pants, worn boots, a broken Mercedas hubcap, a concrete mile marker, a British MRE …and the 10 pound box of gum balls.
I had ceased to be surprised at what I might find but I did wonder why he hadn’t distributed them. I remember slitting the thick green tape, thinking I could almost ‘see’ his hands securing the box, as I flipped the top back. Brightly colored still, packed tightly in the box, there they were, no little plastic sleeves surrounded them individually, just naked, dirty gumballs with bits of desert clinging to the ones closest to the seams of the box.
I might have laughed. No, probably not. I more likely cried.
So yesterday, what do I find at the bottom of the pile of way too many freaking dishes in the bar, but those damn gumballs. To say they were nasty is an understatement. I flipped the top back and it looked like some had sort of had mini eruptions, sugar pimples you might call them, scary coloring making them appear sort of angry and malignant. What was shocking was that no roaches or ants scurried from out of them, there were no mouse droppings. Yeah, all signs pointed to some really scary ingredients housed in those mostly hard now, candy shells.
I have been having a time with the raccoons getting in my trash every night so in a moment of getting back-ness, I decided I would put them near the garbage can and let them eat those fricking 15 year old gumballs for their dinner. Sentimentality will drive you to these thoughts. To me, still under the influence of brain chemistry provoking sentimentality, it was a bit of paying homage to my Jake, proportional response and all. Okay, maybe not. I hoped they would eat them and die.
When I got up this morning, one, ONE had been removed from the box and left with a tiny bite taken out of it. There those damn gum balls remained, waiting for me to do what I should have done long ago. It has NEVER paid for me to indulge in evil intentions!
I threw them away today, the garbage men will pick them up tomorrow and they will go out to a landfill the day after, mixed all in with the garbage collected on my tiny little side of this planet. (They probably have a half life of 1000 years or something and somebody will come across them after we have colonized Mars…)
So why am I telling you this. It’s not a confession of how nutty some members of my family are although that clearly is a thing. It’s mostly to help me parse though this whole letting go process. What I know is that if you are sentimental or even not so much, there is a time to stop ‘collecting’. There is a time to shed the material reminders of those you wish were still here. Or maybe its time to just clean up, so your sons won’t have the burden when it’s your turn to hit the Pearly Gates and streets of Gold.
But it also applies to the emotional things, the psychological things, the mental things that weigh us down. This past year has been very hard. The reality is that its been very hard on each one of about 8 billion people. It’s been hard on my Mother and my neighbor. It’s been difficult for my church and the Mexican restaurant I love. Starting fresh means something very different this new Year coming up. So it is important to take the time to examine what we need to get rid of. Time and viruses and fear take no notice of one year turning into the next. And gumballs, piles of useless collections or my Bob’s golf shoes (okay, never mind I am still keeping those, in his car), definantly have an expiration date. For a lot of us, the time of letting go of the past is December 31st. Its not real, it’s a manmade milestone sorta dictated by our sun, but I think it’s a good one. It makes a time where we take inventory. And get rid of what we need to.
Here’s what I have figured out lately. Sometimes its the clutter, the collecting, that once its gone, you get to see what you kept. And what we choose to ‘keep’ is way more precious, and in some part just that much more valuable because we can see its value more clearly.
My love for Jake hasn’t changed. My love for Silent Bob hasn’t changed. My life has changed. But I see who they were and are and what my life is more clearly. And I see John and Josh in ways I hadn’t before. Letting go of some things is right. And keeping the good things is just as right. I am better at this than I was 17 years ago.
I pray you can let go of whatever this year has weighed on you. I pray for hope and joy in ways you might never have expected because you can fairly evaluate the precious people that are yours. I pray that you revel in the creator who made you and if you don’t know how to revel in that, well ask me.
And by the way, my Silent Bob, Happy Anniversary. Sorry for all the times I might not have been the wife I should have been, but today I might let go a little bit of that and remember the aging love that we came to because that was really quite precious in the end and very much worth holding on to.
American Sweetgum Tree
The Sweetgum tree is native to the southeastern United States …
So…? If you planted the gum balls – would some grow to be….?
This was beautiful,sweet,funny, and sad, all at the same time. I love you Janet and you would not believe the stuff of Jim’s that I still hold on to.
The difference is, I am leaving all my ” hoard” for my girls to handle. Kind of makes me smile thinking about what comments they will make.
I don’t think about that deployment much these days. Too many bad memories. But my memories with Jake stand out like shining lights in the darkness. We shared a lot of laughs, and a lot of bitching, and a lot of games of 42. And I distinctly remember him ordering those gum balls, and him getting them in the mail.
Janet, my dear, that was a wonderful story for us all approaching the end of a year named after a TV show (2020). Whilst many tough times have been had by all this year, there are many things we can and should be thankful for. Our faith, our family, and our friends. You know the saying: God never puts us through more than we can endure with His help and Grace. It’s true and everlasting. We all have “gumballs” to clean out of our closets, but the memories and spirits of those precious folks we have lost from this Earth and entrusted to their promised eternity are an undying flame that kindles our fire. Jake’s telling you, “Mom, you can go ahead and ditch those gumballs now – they were never more than a material thing anyways – but know I love you and the family and watch over you everyday.” Love, Peace, and Grace be with you and your entire family this next year, Janet.💖
Wise words. Thank you for sharing your life. The fire took all of Brett’s earthly things and all our clutter, but still have too much 3 years later. Love to read your real life stories.
Oh wow. Janet this is so…real, poignant, sad, funny and just so, so LIFE. Beautifully penned, it is a really good piece. I hope everyone reads it. I’m going to read it again, consider the things I need to let go of, and share this with friends.
Your heart has taken hits like few others, and yet you have the strength to put words on paper AND to help people. You’re amazing and a great representation of our father’s authentic, nitty-gritty love.
Profound and touching.
I love you Janet! Thank you for touching my heart! There are a few things I need to “let go of” this coming year!
Janet, you have really caused me to stop and think about my current situation of “things”. I definitely have a problem letting go. When I read your words — “Sometimes its the clutter, the collecting, that once its gone, you get to see what you kept. And what we choose to ‘keep’ is way more precious, and in some part just that much more valuable because we can see its value more clearly” — it made me look at my clutter with different eyes. This is empowering and I feel lighter just reading these words. So good! Thank you for sharing your real life with us.
As usual, your profound musings suck the appropriate words right out of me, but I am touched by your wisdom & faith & loving spirit.
Being the overly sentimental person that I am, this post rings true to me, as I’ve held on to too many things for far too long!
Your way of touching my heartstrings is a gift. I’ll sort through this week and thank you many times over. I appreciate the way you love those blessed to know you in words and actions.
it is obvious to me that the ones who you love and miss so much are still very much alive in your heart. Thank you for this inspirational message of love, family, and treasures.
I loved this. I miss you!
Janet, thanks for another fine musing that ends up being relevant to many of us! Sometimes I think the more I get rid of, the more there is to get rid of! I really, REALLY want to get rid of it and not have that duty fall to my son and his family, but it’s a lot of work, a lot of bending over, and I’d just as soon put “Bulldoze it!” in my will.
And just a little P.S. about the gumballs: if the rats and ants and other creatures won’t eat it, how bad can that stuff from China be for us?
♥️Oh J Girl…I loved this and had to laugh several times and teared up once, as I imagined you in this “Marie Kondo “ attempt to rid what one does not need. Purging is healthy and those gum balls were screaming to leave the box! The rejection of them by the raccoons was a clear indication!
Love you to the moon and back!
Again, I loved reading your heart warming “getting rid of stuff” message. I laughed, I cried!! It was beautiful. You are gifted at writing a message that touches numerous emotions. I have a nylon jacket I gave my mother, probably 24 years ago. Occasionally I wear it. It has a little drawstring in one of the pockets. I always “feel” that string knowing my mother touched it. Although it could be washed, I don’t. It still has her “touch”. I’ve thought of just going ahead and giving it to Goodwill for someone to keep them warm. After reading your message, think it’s time to let it go…..I’ll work on it. God bless, love you bunches.