Family history, often embodied in heirlooms and keepsakes from our forbearers, can be a casualty of our fascination with decluttering and minimalism and the drive to streamline our lives.
Indeed, while a terrible packrat when it comes to sentimental items such as gifts, cards and letters, and almost overwhelming compulsion to declutter our home.
At the same time, I’m rededicated to learning my family history and traditions, thanks to my dear mother’s blessed and ongoing presence. I treasure the opportunity even as I struggle for balance.
Mom has weathered severe health setbacks in the past couple of years, including several hospitalizations, long COVID, congestive heart failure, and more. These days she struggles to walk. Still, she retains her mental acuity and works puzzles and games to maintain alertness. Her friends in the retirement community love her. Mom’s pioneer spirit keeps her going. Raised during the Depression by stoic parents, she has a Puritan philosophy: Be resolute, don’t complain, rely on God for sustenance. There are many lessons to be learned from someone who’s lived nine decades.
Being my own boss offers me more time to learn more about Mom, our family, and her cherished memories, whether it’s on our way to dental and medical appointments,
enjoying Sunday dinners together, or going out for the occasional lunch.
During the early days of the pandemic lockdown, I would call Mom and spend some time interviewing her about her life. Even after years of closeness thanks to my only-
child status, I learned many things about Mom and Dad and their family histories.
I’d always known that Dad came from a horsey, Maryland family, but I didn’t know how good he was at jumping horses until we went through his many silver trophies, including platters, plates and serving dishes, some even with horse heads as handles.
Mom remembers her own father raising rabbits for food during the Depression. She recalls her grandmother chasing down chickens and plucking them for Sunday dinner. Her memories of nurses’ training at Huntington Hospital offer 1950s perspectives of pediatric, surgical and mental health medicine.
I have a new appreciation for Nana’s carved end table, Grandma’s ceramic pieces and Mom’s silver flatware. Just the other day I wound my father’s grandfather’s beautiful mantle clock; we’re enjoying the chimes every quarter hour.
Contributing to family memories, I may revive our Sunday tradition of serving formal dining-room meals on our wedding china; I’m compiling family recipes and sharing them with our kids; at family holiday parties, we encourage Mom and her brother to reminisce.
Still, my challenge – and I’m sure I’m not alone – is to minimize material objects throughout our home as I maintain family traditions and history. I’m a devotee of books, podcasts and blogs about decluttering, minimalism, and so I struggle for balance.
This is where prayer comes in. Mindful of the present moment and focused on God’s presence, I’m learning to find joy in Mom and the memories she shares, even as I relinquish material things that really don’t matter. I pray for balance in my life; I long to let go.
With these challenges, my quiet prayer is one of thankfulness for Mom’s yesterdays, patience in my todays and new promise for my kids’ tomorrows.