reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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shabby chic. [two artists tuesday]

i was grateful when they attached a name to it – shabby chic. my inclination to love things with the texture of peeling paint and a bit rough-hewn was vindicated…wait!…not only vindicated, but reinforced by the decorating fashion industry. phew! that meant that the old screen doors on the wall, the glass-less window frames tucked here and there, the chopped-off-side-of-the-vintage-desk end table, the vintage black suitcases, the metal radiator grate catty-corner in the foyer, the old door laid horizontal on horses, the tin ceiling panels…these were all fashion statements and not statements of making-do-decor. such a relief.

i must say, however, that i wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. these all make me happy. they are cozy and warm and, mostly, they have history. and it’s the history-that-remains-a-mystery and the history-that-i-know-a-smidge-about that i love. i had no idea whose screen door screens these were when i got them at a wholesale trade show years ago but i could imagine the sound they made when they slammed shut. nor did i know where the old black window with one colored glass square in my studio was from. the old four-foot tall window frames were being thrown out of the historic lakefront building where i had my offices, making room for new windows. i couldn’t bear to see them in the trashpile and the way i adored those offices made it easy to take them home. someone literally chopped off the side of the old desk leaving three drawers and a rough edge and selling it in the estate sale for $5. you can’t see the rough edge unless you really look and this piece has been in the living room for years and years now, serving a purpose and feeling loved. the tin, well, who knows? what i do know is that they make marvelous places to magnet photographs and cards and tiny little signs with sayings that help each day. so, yeah, i guess my point is that whether i know the back-story or not, i really appreciate the warmth of long living they bring. they sit alongside many rocks and sticks that have made short and long journeys home with me, in the back of little baby scion or in backpacks with corks that come home from times spent with my children and moments i want to remember.

i haven’t purchased a lot of brand new furniture. there was the first herculon-fabric overstuffed couch with two matching overstuffed chairs, a tweed in lovely shades of very-early 1980s brown.

well over a decade later that was donated to a youth group and a new couch in mid 1990s floral barn red and forest green with a reclining wingchair of red and white checks made its way into the living room. both of those pieces still have a place in the house – though no longer in the living room. the couch, still very comfortable, is covered with a black slipcover and has a place in the sitting room with a hand-me-down lazyboy, an old farm table and an antique copper boiler tub that stores our roadtrip writings.

there’s a black leather couch in the living room now that has been there over a decade. it shares the space with the old secretary that was my brother’s, the bistro table that was in the second story porch of my old offices, a vintage typewriter 20 bought me for my birthday a couple years ago, a few paintings i spattered, the desk-turned-end-table you now know too much about and the driftwood we brought back from a trip to long island. the two big branches we painted white and potted to hold happy lights still stand steadfastly happying up the room and each day i pass them i wonder if they are too holiday-ish. i quickly reject this as too big a decision and plug them in.

it is in recent days i have had the good fortune of hearing from a dear old friend i taught with in my first two years of teaching way-back-when. we soon will have a phone chat and catch up on everything from a-z. what lois doesn’t realize is that i have thought of her simply every day…as it is her dresser that stands in our bedroom of vintage size that couldn’t really accommodate one of those bedroom suites you see in magazines. instead, this old sturdy five-drawer sits opposite the windows of the sunrise and hold my dad’s peanut can, one of the precious items i have of my sweet poppo’s, the planters peanut blue metal can he tucked in his drawer that always held a few dollars and was the place he sent you if you were going to go pick up the pizza.

as i look at the top of that dresser right this second, pictures of d and me and of my beloved children are on top. there is a small piece of the carpet padding from the irresponsible-gasket-flood waiting to go in the special box next to the yago-sangria-wine-bottle-turned-lamp i made when i was 19 and there is a card in a glass frame that reads: “someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life? and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.”

all of this – the stuff with history i know, the stuff with history i don’t know, the peeling paint, the rough-hewn, the used and the it-took-me-a-long-time-to-decide new…all of it – around me reminds me of that and is the connecting thread. of the concentric circles of me, of us. probably that’s why “shabby chic” speaks to me. it is most definitely why it works for me.

*****

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the beauty of $2.99. [k.s. friday]

my sweet dad would buy my mom grocery store flowers often. she kept a vase on the table in the high ceiling-ed foyer near the front door in their last home together and flowers would welcome you as you entered. momma wasn’t really a red-rose-florist-delivery kind of gal. she was more a bundle-of-flowers, a miscellaneous-bunch, a day-old-flowers-sale woman, always so pleased with the simplicity of her own arrangements. now, don’t get me wrong, she was delighted to receive flowers that arrived on her doorstep, but those were not required of my poppo. instead, she reveled in the extraordinarily ordinary blooms they found at publix.

we went to the citymarket when we got to carbondale. needing to find lunch and some dinner items to bring to our airbnb we walked into a new store, inviting and with lots of light. it was in the produce section that i passed the display, advertising a clearance – merely $2.99 for cellophane-wrapped bundles beyond their recommended dates. the hypericum beckoned to me whispering a suggestion, “table centerpiece”. we travel with a small jelly jar and tea lights and i knew we could find something we could use as a vase in our place. as it turned out, it was a ball jar and, together, ball jar with berries and jelly jar with candlight paired on our table. it was time to embrace a precious stay in the high mountains.

scrolling through my photos, the pictures of the hypericum berries on our table easily bring back the moments we had with my daughter and her boyfriend. so much anticipation when a child lives far away and yet the time uncontrollably flies by and, today, i am reeling with wistful thoughts that just over one short week ago we had already been to and left those giant red rock mountains, the snow-capped mount sopris, a trail along the rio grande, horses down the road, dinners at the gathering table, laughter at the high counter in our sweet unit, a pedicure and a few errands with my girl. it would seem the stuff of songs and somewhere, deep inside, they are writing themselves.

we left the hypericum berries in our airbnb. still beautiful, it was a way to say thank you to our hosts. besides, they belonged there on a little slate plate in the middle of the table in a room filled with sunlight. promise for the next occupants, perhaps. a little gratitude left behind.

we aren’t frivolous. especially not these days. anyone who knows me knows that i am a slow decision-maker when it comes to purchases for myself. most places we go we try to find a couple cloth napkins to bring home with us. as we sit at our own table it is a way to remember other places we have sat, meals we have shared. we didn’t find any on this last trip but at the hardware store we discovered after our river-trail hike, we picked up two tin camp mugs for our coffee. they have mountains on them and will remind us of our time this trip.

i already miss my girl and wish i had run outside for one more hug – an extra – the morning she drove off. but she was in a hurry, i knew, and i know a mom-hug can get in the way. so i held back and just waved, trying to be nonchalant about the tears running down my face.

i returned back into the space we had lived in for those fewest of days and looked around at the now packed-up airbnb. my eye caught the sun-rays through the window lighting up the hypericum berries. and i whispered back to them, “thank you.”

*****

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the last time. [two artists tuesday]

we knew it was the last evening we’d sit out on that big patio under the awning next to the garage in the backyard. and so, with a glass of wine in hand, we got a couple chairs and cushions and walked out into a gorgeous denver night. we watched as the light waned and talked about this house, the home in which david mostly grew up. i remembered the first time i was there, years ago, and how much time we have spent out on the patio, visiting, in years since. my favorite spot at that house, it’s an early-morning coffee place, an eat-dinner-out place and a late-night nightcap place. and this was our last time.

soon this house will be sold and a new family will patio-sit. a new family will plant in the garden out back. a new family will fill the old shed and park their cars in the garage. a new family will cook meals in the kitchen and play in the playroom downstairs. and this sweet house, sturdy and steadfast, will hold them safe and keep them warm and ground their dreams with the security of home. simple and mostly unadorned, it will, like it has always been, be embellished by the love of people together. but this was our last time.

driving back down from the high mountains we passed the exits that easily would take us there. in those minutes we knew that it was the last time we had the option of taking those exits to lead us to their home. we did not exit. they were not there. the time of life has flown by and new chapters were opening for them; out of necessity his mom and dad have flipped the page over and we start new times with them. change is never easy, but we seek the positive in it and lean on trust. the next time we drive down from the mountains we will take different highway exits. this was the last time these two could take us there – to what was home.

i have been past my growing-up house maybe five times in the last forty years or so, once, maybe twice, in the last decade. one time, about twenty-five years ago, i actually went inside. the owners pulled into the driveway while i was gawking at their house from the street. in an effort to help them feel safer, i explained why i was staring at their house. they invited me inside, showed me the main part of the house, brought me into the garage where my brother’s peanuts drawings still graced the walls. i can’t remember the changes they made; it’s all blurry now. i just know it was a gift to be able to step on the wood floors of that house, to touch the walls once again. it would be yet another gift to be able to show david that house, then all the stories would have a base-place, and i could linger for a few moments in the what-was.

i wonder if someday we will take the exit to his old house again. if we will drive in the double-concrete-poured driveway and walk up to the front door, trellis gracing it. i wonder if some new owner will invite us in, to peek at some of the renovating they have done. i wonder if we will step out back onto the patio, a place of so many memories.

or if the last time was the last time.

*****

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woven wicker paper plate holders and love. [two artists tuesday]

“mom’s beloved paper plates,” my son called them. the boy was referring to plain and simple paper plates, the least expensive kind, not the dixie plates or chinet plates or the styrofoam plates that make you cringe when they squeak. just the kind of paper plate that is uncoated and recyclable.

i’m not sure that is a good thing to be remembered for. but in busy times with busy schedules and no dishwasher, paper plates were often a choice. “double them,” my momma would say. or she would hand you one of these woven wicker paper-plate-holders, of which she was a big fan.

and so, walking in the aisle of the grocery store and passing a gigantic display of these was like a gentle ‘hello’ from my sweet momma. since we already own some of these, from our beaky, we didn’t need to stop and buy any. plus, we rarely use paper plates these days. in these times there is more time for dishwashing. and real plates and cloth napkins. but oh, that ‘hello’.

cardinals in the backyard, notecards in the bottom of old purses, paint-by-number paintings in antique shoppes, peeps in easter candy displays, woven paper-plate-holders…they all keep alive memories of my sweet momma. in short order, this month, we will mark six years since she left this plane of living, nine for my poppo. it doesn’t seem possible. the blue metal planters peanuts can that my dad kept in his drawer for a zillion years sits on top of my dresser, the small wooden boxes from his workshop hold our nespresso pods, the ceiling fan chain wraps around our wrists, braceleting a reminder of him.

like you, i notice things, whether antiquing or sitting or cleaning out or grocery shopping. thready and emotional, beyond repair, i will always stop in my tracks. i choose not to see these things as passively there. instead, i choose that somehow, crossing the invisible ‘over’, this tiny gesture is a greeting, a reminder, a reassurance, love itself.

*****

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“i know you can do it.” [merely-a-thought monday]

inside a what-is-now-considered-vintage liz claiborne barrel purse was a treasure. not unzipped in years, i unpacked it the other day. i found a rattle, two small children’s board books, photographs in one of those plastic wallet picture thingies, a couple expired credit cards, a slew of emery boards, faded receipts i could no longer read, old chapstick, a collection of assorted pens and pencils, a few lists, some coins and two tiny mystery keys, a few notes from my girl, cars on scraps of paper drawn by my boy, and a card in the envelope it was mailed in. every now and then you stumble upon a treasure you forgot you had.

my sweet momma was famous for her handwritten letters; most of our family would easily recognize her handwriting, even in a crowded handwriting sampling, even years after last seeing it. this little card in my old purse was clearly something i carried around for some time. it was a note of reassurance, a note with great empathy, a note of encouragement. she mailed it early in january 1989, just a few months after i moved to wisconsin. still in the middle of homesickness and adjustment, though – as i realize now – she must have been feeling loneliness as well, she wrote to me. and she penned six words that i remember her repeating throughout my life:

“i know you can do it.”

those words – just six – can make all the difference.

momma was a glass-half-full type. her fervent cheering-on was a solid part of her nurturing. she fostered support with easy acceptance of failure, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” she didn’t list to the negative, nor did she wallow in it. in all her life, from early in marriage my dad MIA and then a POW in world war II, to losing her first baby within a day of her birth while my dad was imprisoned and she knew nothing of his whereabouts, to losing her grown son to lung cancer, to standing by my dad in his own lung cancer, a myriad of rough patches, to being left alone with my dad gone to face a double mastectomy at 93. no matter the challenge, she faced it down. she knew she could do it. and, despite any enormity, she left you with no doubt. even though her heart was thready and vulnerable, her positive spirit was contagious, her strength a force in the world.

these times – the pandemic and all it has wreaked, personal physical injuries or illnesses, job trials, isolation and loss of too much and too many to list – have cued up a range of mountains for each of us to scale. my mom’s “good morning merry sunshine” couples with her “live life, my sweet potato.” lines of counterpoint for melodies in life that are askew, her words brace against the storm. my sweet momma did not give up and she did not expect you to either. “you got this,” would be her brene brown shortcut message. she stuck with it all and rode each complicated wave, each complexity, each twist. she lives on in my daughter tearing down a run on a snowboard. she lives on in my son setting up a beautiful new place with his boyfriend. she lives on in the love her granddaughters and grandson bestow upon their children. she lives on in me.

in these times, with all its obstacles daring us to succumb, i can hear her. “i know you can do it,” her voice whispers to my heart.

*****

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old house symphony. [k.s. friday]

thwwwwwwwwwwunk. a distinctive sound. shhhhhhhhhhhhunk. another distinctive sound. the timbre of laundry in the laundry chute.

our old house has a two-story laundry chute: from the bathroom on the second floor through the bathroom on the first floor to the basement wooden trap door. for over three decades i have listened to laundry as it sings its way down the chute. it is likely i can identify – to a pretty close degree – what is traveling down to the land of the washer-dryer. i can tell if it is jeans. i can tell if it is socks. i can tell if it is a wet washcloth or a wet towel. i can tell it in the dark. i can tell it as a lark. oops…got carried away. but that is the truth – i can tell by the sound of the item as it brushes against the metal chute-frame and lands on the little wooden door. having had this highly-technical cutting-edge advantage for the better part of my adult life, i’m not sure what i would do without a laundry chute.

the radiator, in the middle of the night, often makes a thunking sound. it emanates from the sitting room, right off the bedroom and, were you to be easily freaked out by unfamiliar noises, you would sit up in bed, frozen and silent, wondering what critter was in the next room thunking. having heard this sound for thirty-something years, coming from radiators a third again old than i am, i am comforted by it, the single metallic-sounding drum-thump a piece of my audio history.

in the early days of owning this house, the wood-floor-guy asked if i wanted the spaces between the planks filled in or if i wanted him to place screws or shims into the wood from below so as not to hear the floor creaking. i was horrified at both ideas. the patina of the old floor, its stories, its life, and the sound of the old floor are all part of what i love about this house. i can’t imagine not hearing the wood floors creak. i never even wished that even in the middle of the night, what feels like a million years ago, just after my baby girl or my baby boy fell fast asleep, just after i laid her or him back in the crib, as i tiptoed out of the nursery hoping to not wake them, trying to avoid the floorboards that made the most noise. i just memorized the boards that were the greatest offenders and long-jumped them. they are the house speaking, the stories it holds dear.

d says i hear better than he does. the gutter’s funny dripping sound, the click of the ceiling fan, the sound the swinging door in the dining room makes, a little water in the pipes, the back screen door squeak, the vinyl siding expanding in the sunlight, the front door lock latching, the pantry closet closing, the boiler kicking on, the old oven opening, the chain on the basement door, the glass knob from the french door falling off.

i just say that i am listening to the symphony of this old house and i’m just a little more tuned in.

*****

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the snowman with mom-arms. [two artists tuesday]

in kindergarten, i watercolor-painted an image of my mom. there was no mistaking her, of course. to my eyes, it looked exactly like her and i was proud as could be when she later turned my masterful painting into a tile to hang on the wall of the kitchen next to the tiled artistic expressions of my big sister and my big brother. now i wonder as i look at the photograph of this artist-sans-maestro image. why did i paint my sweet momma with two distinctly different length arms? was i proportion-inept? was i image-to-paper incapable? was i running out of room on the page in-between all the birds? maybe, oh maybe, i was just not a gifted five-year-old-watercolorist. despite all its shortcomings, my sweet momma carried that tile-painting from one house to the next to the next to the next to the next to the last. as i glance at the art of my children around me – the hand-drawn childhood notes framed on my bedside table, the painted fish-rock on the kitchen windowsill, the handmade signs in my studio – i understand her fierce everlasting dedication.

this snowman seems the snow-replication – at least arm-wise – of my ‘beautiful’ mom-painting. i don’t think i ever painted my mom in a solo piece again after kindergarten. i’m sure i painted my family, my house, my pets, flowers and sky and horses. but i didn’t paint any more portraits. no, it didn’t seem like i was gifted in any way in a depiction of a real person on canvas or paper. but i would hasten to add that i easily have portraited my mom in a million other ways.

she is in music i have written, in photographs i have taken. she is in the branches i have dragged out of the woods and the rocks that have been collected in backpacks. she is in the memories that swirl in antique shoppes and in table coffee-sitting. she is in words i speak and expressions on my face. she is in my mind’s eye, my thready heart and in that little voice in my head. she is in the letters i write and the upside-down shampoo bottles and the homemade chicken soup in my stockpot. she is in the way i push back against inequality, the way i rail against wrongdoing. she is in the merry morning sunshine and the stars that glitter at night, begging attention.

and she is in this tiny snowman we built on a bench in southport park on a snowy day in february, proportionately-inappropriate arms and all.

*****

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wishbones in the woods. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we received a letter from the energy company that tree pruning may be required on our property. there is one tree that is closer to power lines than any others. this tree is out front and has been there the entire three decades plus that i have been here.

this old tree invited my children to climb it, was the source of limbs we used for christmas trees, shaded the front yard and gardens through the years. i watched this tree change through the seasons out the window as i rocked my children in the nursery; i’ve taken pictures of it with snow stacked up against its trunk. i’ve pondered what to do in the area around its roots, which rise above the surface of the ground; i’ve given up planting around it and allowed it to just co-exist with the dirt and scant grass. this tree has lost limbs in recent years and has some interior rotting causing some breakage to bear no leaves. but this is the source of long-time wisdom which has welcomed me home each time i’ve pulled into the driveway. each time i silently thank this tree and breathe a little bit easier to be at this place so familiar to me. i am wondering now if this is the tree. it pains me to think of this old tree pruned beyond recognition or, worse yet, taken down entirely. if indeed this is the case, i would hope to have pieces of this tree to save – slices as chargers for under dinner plates or even just simply a limb to wrap with happy lights and place in a spot of honor inside. yes. i am wondering if this is the tree.

the tree in the woods off the trail we follow was one that collected snow, its face to the wind. we hadn’t noticed it before; it blended into the rest of the woods and fallen trees. but, with snow on its bows it was clearly a wishbone, and, obviously, making a wish, i hiked into the underbrush to get a closer photo.

i wonder how often we pass by trees – and perhaps every living thing and perhaps people – without noticing them for what they are or who they are. how often do we turn a blind eye to that which is familiar or that which blends without any outstanding characteristic? it is possible that we participate in life more peripherally than we ought, more aloofly than the stuff of life deserves. the merit of each bow, each limb, each living thing, each person, is lost in our pursuit of next.

in the still threadiness of our hearts, perhaps slowing down and looking more closely might yield stronger connection to that which we understand, that which is familiar, that which we know well. more importantly, perhaps it might yield stronger connection to that which we don’t understand, that which is not familiar and that which we don’t know well. an opportunity to discard apathy and discuriousness and embrace old trees by the driveway and wishbones in the woods.

*****

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the two of you. [k.s. friday]

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the two of you:  two reasons why i breathe ~ my children (cd liner notes)

this will never change.  most of the things i gather around me are things that make me think of them, feel them near.  it’s as simple as framed photographs or collages or a peace keychain or lanyards that say ‘colorado’ and ‘boston’.  it’s a screenshot of a text message i want to remember.  it’s a note jotted on my calendar about something My Girl or My Boy said to me or a date that is important to them i want to remember.  it’s notes they wrote as children held by magnets to the refrigerator or in small frames bedside.  it’s laughter saved in a video.  it’s moments of tears driving away from their homes.  it’s a rock saved on a hike in the high desert canyonlands with The Girl; it’s The Boy’s childhood favorite ny taxi pencil on my piano.  nothing is huge.  everything is huge.

most of my also-mom-friends will agree that, outside of spending time together, the one thing certain to lift them up on any given day is a reaching-out-to-them by a grown-up child.  it’s the moment ANYthing else stops.  it’s the silently-agreed-upon, strictly-held-to and always-welcome interruption in the middle of visiting others, working, hiking, cooking, sleeping.  both The Girl and The Boy knew – and know – that they can call or text at any time of day or night and i will be there; i will answer.   ‘always there’ is a fierce inner motherhood promise designed to both ground and frustrate children, whatever their ages.   it’s a guiding principle, a mom-creed.   it’s absolute.  it’s truth.

from the moment they were born everything changed.  and, from that moment on, one thing didn’t.  the two of you ~ two reasons why i breathe ~ my children.  ❤️

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the storage unit. [two artists tuesday]

storage unit copy

on my nightstand next to the bed are two frames.  both written in little-kid-writing, they are notes i saved from long ago.  one is from My Girl and it reads, “goodnight mom” surrounded by hearts.  the other is from My Boy and it has two words on it, “craig” (with a backwards g) and “mom” and has hearts filling up the rest of the notepaper.  each night i see these as i wish them both, from far away, goodnight, sweet dreams, restful sleep.

i come by this threadiness honestly.

we were in florida visiting; two of the days we were there, despite bright sunlight and temperatures in the 80s, we spent in a storage unit.  what was left of my parents’ belongings was packed in boxes, stacked in a unit, waiting for us to put our eyes on all of it and decide what to do with each of these things.  my mom’s impulse was to keep things, especially paper.  photographs and slides aside, there were files and files – some of which we will wade through later.  there were boxes of mugs and baskets and trinkets, a kaleidoscope of the pieces of life, carefully packed by my sister and brother-in-law during a time of sadness, a time that was not ripe with paring down or organizing, a time that is difficult for anyone who has packed up a house. larger items were already distributed – furniture given away or passed down to the next generation.  but these boxes….

i was quite sure that, even if i hadn’t seen anything in any of the boxes, i had all i needed….my treasures of my sweet momma and my poppo are tucked in close to my heart and i have physical memories of them around me in our home.  they are not the high-priced treasures you might think people would save or claim.  instead, they are small, meaningful, invaluable and thready things that speak to me.  old calendars of my mom’s, my dad’s small rickety wooden boxes from his workbench, glasses from which my dad sipped his scotch, a flannel shirt my mom wore that matched my dad’s, a board with hooks that is wood-burned with the word “keys” and hung in our growing-up house for as long as i can remember…

spending time in the storage unit, surrounded by memories and the fading scent of my mom’s perfume and their house, i was heartened to see that i actually could go through and pare down.  it gives me hope about our own basement.  the real things of our past – sweet treasured memories – are not things.  everyone gets meaning from and sees value in different stuff.  two days in the storage unit reminded me again of that.

this time i didn’t cry.  i laughed with my momma, who, no doubt, was rolling her eyes in heaven over the fact that she had saved sooo many pieces of paper…paid bills, old house contracts, warranties from appliances long gone, car receipts from several cars ago.  a collection of life gone by, i know she smiled when every now and then we stumbled onto something i loved to touch….i kept the little scrap of paper that fluttered to the floor that my mom had written my full birth name on…i kept a couple calendars with my poppo’s handwriting…i kept a tiny folder of maps my mom collected in her curiosity about the changing world…i kept my dad’s brown suede cap, the one i bought him a million years ago…i kept a manila folder of letters i had written to them over the years – that my momma saved…these pieces of evidence of who they were, heirlooms of what was most important to them.

i vowed, once again, to go through, give away, sell the things in our own home that are not necessary.  but those bins in the basement labeled “kirsten” and “craig”?  those will stay.  i will delight in going through the artwork and stories and notes and school projects from their childhood and growing up.  and some day, maybe they too will see how infinitely important each of the baby steps and adult steps they have taken are to me.  and maybe some of the thready treasures i have left behind will give them pause and, maybe, they will save a scrap or two, a calendar, a notebook of unpublished songs, photographs, something that reminds them of what was most important to me – the thready things that are memories of love, of family, of them.

it wasn’t sunny or 82 degrees inside the storage unit.  but it was warm in a whole other way.

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