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Holly Lake Effect

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Before you make that trip to the dumpster, consider this...
Have you ever looked at a bunch of stuff, held your breath and said "Ugh what a mess!"? And the person to whom the mess belongs says-"That's not a mess-that's my grandmother's prize collection of knick-knacks." And you begin to wonder-mess?...collection?..what's the difference? I can still remember hearing my mother as she stared at something I had made, hearing her say "clean up that mess right away before your father gets home." As if she tolerated the thing I had made but he wouldn't. I decided then that people have different "mess thresholds"-and what you might look at as a bunch of treasures, someone else might suggest that whatever it was should be put in the dumpster. Right away. As if it smelled. Yet a lot of those messes are indeed collections and some of them may even smell like money, as for example, old colored bottles stamped with the glass maker's name (Antique Road Show estimate for the lot-$4,000).
Some messes are medicinal, that is they help people get through tough times. Things like old photographs, vinyl records, recipe books, have their individual powers to soothe troubled thought, I often wonder about the piles of old black and white photographs you find in junk shops or antique stores. Why would people throw them away? They'll never remember in real life what Uncle Benjamin looked like. They'll even wind up arguing about it with a sibling-"He parted his hair on the left-I remember it distinctly"..."No it was on the right-he had that little bump just over his eye. When you saw it, you'd know where the part in his hair was." Tender memories, left alone, without ownership, wait for approval from somebody who'll put them to a whole different use. I am impressed with the vitality of old stuff these days-you see it in roadside flea markets, on somebody's front porch with a sign out front-"Antiques", in people's yards, mingling with the flowers and gravel walkways. Yard art. It's nice to know that there are new ways for old stuff to have a new life-gives us hope for ourselves.
My theory is that the nature of the stuff doesn't matter as much as how it is displayed. Old stuff can look important on painted shelves, well-dusted, arranged so the eye can take in its peculiarities. Old stuff needs to be talked about tenderly within hearing distance of the stuff itself. A china dinosaur, a worm made of wire and felt, a pretty painted eggshell done by somebody you've forgotten-these are all worthy of places in our memories and on our memory shelves. Yes we should all have a memory shelf (or shelves) to hold the good old things, the ones that connect us to certain parts of the past that we'd otherwise forget.
When my brother died recently I found out so many things I hadn't known about him just from an old cardboard box. In it were memorabilia, his colorful ribbons from days in the Philippines during World War II, his American Legion Medal won in high school for scholarship and leadership (and I always thought he was the slow one of the family) , a trinketbox he hammered together with a cover bright with flowers. I didn't realize he'd ever liked flowers but now I can see him tenderly drawing with colored ink a rose on the hard wood surface. Who said things can't talk? In some mysterious way they become connected to something inside your brain and you're suddenly carried back years-"oh yes, I remember, he wrote poetry!" It came to me like the light under a window shade. Things about my brother I never would have known had it not been for things. Junk. Stuff.
Be sure when somebody comes after you to clean out a closet or get rid of objects on a shelf that you have your argument polished and ready. Things talk. They tell stories. And they don't argue or contradict. Talk about getting to the truth of the matter. Trust a wooden frog, a china egg, a box with brass hinges, an old photo. They give the gift of memories. They carry you back in time and wake you up.