Oh, sure. I religiously kept baby books for my children, and there is a box in the barn dedicated to early artwork, bits of pottery, class projects and so forth that my own children accumulated over the years. Mind you, in the course of several moves, I sifted the contents down to the very best and most memorable works. You can call me a bad mom if you like, but when one is trying to pack their life up into sea crates time and again, the need for traveling as light as humanly possible comes into play.
In our house, we have a policy: If it hasn’t been used or seen for six months, it needs to go. Very cut and dried, the only exception being my many photo albums, and even those are currently being digitized.
Unsentimental. That was me.
Or, so I thought.
When HH and I moved back to Houston in 2008 to spend four glorious, sunbathed years, it was an almost unbearable move. Departing our beloved England, we were leaving behind fifteen years of friendships formed, a son who at the time was going through the pain of divorce, and our (married) daughter and sixteen-month-old grandson. When we boarded the plane for the US, I felt the ocean could not contain my tears. I cried for ten hours straight, and again on a daily basis for at least our first year in Houston.
This was not sentiment: This was grief, pure and simple.
Though we loved being Stateside, I would be lying if I did not admit to living from vacation to vacation, looking always forward to seeing our kids and grandson. Within a couple months of moving back, we discovered our daughter was expecting her second baby, so our heartstrings were naturally very much still attached to this little patch of green in the Atlantic.
I treasure memories of my toddler grandson covering the standing mirror in my bedroom with hundreds of sticky hand prints, hand prints which I refused to wash off until he returned many months later to leave some more. I would wake each morning and face the floor length mirror standing at an angle in the corner of my bedroom. Sun glancing off the dusty surface threw the baby palm prints into sharp relief. Though I was something of a houseproud neatnik in those years, Ashton’s little hand prints never failed to make me smile. Sometimes they made me cry.
It was at that time I began to realize that unsentimental me was rather more sentimental than I had ever realized.
Now that we are all in very much happier circumstance, our son having moved to the states and happily married to the girl of his dreams, our lives transplanted back here to the UK and our daughter, husband and two children flourishing just a mile down the road, I remain touched by ridiculous waves of sentimentality. Perhaps it is my age. Or maybe it is because, before facing such painful separation from all I loved, I had taken so very many things for granted.
Some years ago, when I was helping my mother get her house organized, I recall her weeping over a box of grayed, rotting rags that she simply could not part with. They were what little remained of my grandmother’s oval rag rug, braided and sewn by hand many decades ago. By this time, they were ancient and soiled beyond all hope, fragile, practically dust in our hands.
“You’ve got to throw it out, mum,” I said.
“I know.” Mum heaved a huge sigh and swiped at her eyes, carefully closing the top of the box again. “Here,” she said at last, “you take it home. Throw it away if you must, just don’t let me see it go. I …I can’t do it.”
No disrespect to my grandmother, but to me, they were just rags. To my mother, they were physical memories wrought in moth-eaten wool. How many songs had been sung, books read, games played and conversations had around this rug?
Being somewhat younger and perhaps a bit more mercenary in those days, I did as she asked and thought little more of it. But now, I understand.
Those little hand prints, pathetic as it sounds, were absolutely precious to me.
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