A Treasured Life

There are avid collectors and then there’s me. I’m a lazy, non-committed collector. My collections start with a bang and then fizzle in no time at all. Just as quickly as I become obsessed with something and scour thrift stores for treasures, I lose interest. I suppose that’s a good thing because a home can only hold so many treasures, or garbage depending on your viewpoint. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. The dumpster divers of the world may be on to something.

There are intentional collections and collections thrust upon you because one day you mentioned in passing you liked Tinker Bell. There are collections you start as a kid and others you inherit. My collection of all things Sleeping Beauty started with a wonderful memory of going to see the movie with my mom. My husband started collecting baseball cards as a kid, and for some reason, used nasty bottle caps. He still has the baseball cards, but I was able to convince him his treasured bottle caps were actually trash.

As a kid, I collected Monkee albums and spent hours listening to them with my best friend. When I grew up, I packed them away in a closet. I just recently dusted them off and bought a new record player so I could listen to memories. I also collected stickers, stamps, John Saul books, and magazine cutouts of Corey Hart, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, and Corey Haim (what girl didn’t in the 80’s?).

As an adult, my collection of porcelain dolls was a way of reclaiming my childhood, but then I realized I wasn’t really into those creepy dolls and I packed them away. I couldn’t get rid of them. Probably because I’ve seen way too many horror movies where the doll tossed in the garbage ends up back in your bedroom staring at you while you sleep.

I became obsessed with finding valuable vintage cast iron skillets after I inherited my grandma’s. I loved watching her fry fish, a cigarette in one hand and a warm can of Pepsi in the other. It’s a part of her I can keep forever. So, the search for skillets were afoot. I found a bunch of them, none of value, and realized I would never use them because they were such a pain in the ass. One person’s “seasoned” is another person’s gross-out.

When we cleaned out my mother-in-law’s house after she moved into memory care, we discovered she became the owner of other family members’ collections when they passed away. We sorted through three generations’ worth of collections they treasured—souvenir spoons, postcards, dog-eared books, greeting cards, and trinkets. They held no monetary value but meant the world to them.

My husband has a collection of movie ticket stubs that started long before we met. They are memories of going to see movies with his best friend—his dad. His dad would ditch work for a few hours to run off to the movies together. He also has a collection of Blazer tickets from the games he went to with his dad. I just love that.

My prized collection is a handful of agates and seashells, each one a memento of a wonderful memory—our honeymoon to the Mexican Riviera, visits to the Oregon coast with the kids, our trip to Northern Ireland to visit my beautiful sister. They might as well be diamonds and rubies. That’s how much they mean to me.

Our house is full of collections and we war over wall space. We have artwork (not the fancy kind), movie and sports memorabilia, super hero collectables, thousands of movies, and priceless pieces of pottery made by our daughter. There’s more but I won’t bore you with the details.

There are collections I will have until the day I die—my grandma’s favorite china, family photos, King’s Crown dishes, and the aforementioned agates and sea shells.

I would like to apologize in advance to our daughters who will one day have to clean out our house. They will have their work cut out for them, that’s for sure. Girls, some things are worth money, so make sure to Google it before you toss it in the garbage. And before you chuck the agates and seashells, remember the fantastic days we spent together collecting them. Remember my treasured life.


The Betrayal

We sold your home. It feels like a betrayal. We filled boxes with thing you no longer need—things you’ve collected over the years, and ordinary things one needs to live an ordinary life—pots and pans, measuring cups, coffee cups, cleaning supplies, and the such. We wrote your name in your clothing like you were going to summer camp. Your shrinking world became a tiny studio apartment in a memory care unit. All the belongings that made your house your home are scattered like clues in a scavenger hunt. Strangers bought your lovingly-used items. Clues are tucked away in our closets and attics, or discarded all-together.

Sixty years of greeting cards, love letters, newspaper clippings, and memories that filled your home now fill a shoebox. It feels like a betrayal. We sorted through your life story and picked and chose what to keep and what to toss away. Who were we to decide their value? A birthday card loving signed by your husband didn’t make the cut because there were sixty more just like it. It could have been your favorite. We’ll never know.

We visit you in memory care and sneak out so you don’t try to follow us out the locked doors. It feels like a betrayal. You’re clutching your purse and have your jacket on. “This is a nice place to visit but I’m ready to go home,” you say. You want to go home to a house you no longer own and live a life you lost years ago. Even with family pictures on the wall and your favorite comforter on your bed, you know this isn’t your home.

Our visits are short. It feels like a betrayal. Time has no meaning—five minutes, five hours, it’s all the same. Our talk is small— meaningless words strung together to fill the empty space. You smile as you tell us about your adventurous day and you believe every word but we know it’s a story dementia whispered in your ear. We never let on we know the truth.

We return to our busy lives until our next visit. It feels like a betrayal. Before dementia whisked you away, you were ours. We heard your voice on the phone every day. “Hey, Hun. It’s just Mom.” Our phone doesn’t ring anymore.

Dementia wrapped us up in its betrayal—“Look what you’ve done to your sweet mother.” It tried to turn our love for you into something sinister as it led you into peril but our steadfast love keeps you safe. We will never betray you.