Memories … Sometimes a smell can bring a smile to our faces, a sunset can warm our heart, and a sound can strike fear that grabs us out of nowhere. When my father died, my mother told me with every memory she found herself navigating waves of emotions. The seas would be calm, and then out of nowhere a swell of memories would knock her off balance. Waves of grief, punctuated with salty tears like spray from the ocean. She died a few short months later, still struggling on the shores of grief.
On a shelf in our house are boxes from my parents, still sealed from the day they were packed. In my mind these boxes have been with us for a little while, a few short years. Grief distorts our sense of time; these boxes have been with us for more than 2 decades. They’ve been through 3 moves with me since my parents died. This week I began sorting through their contents. And in the process, I find myself amidst those crashing waves. Some are the kind you’d boogie board the whole way to the shoreline, filled with laughter and a sense of sweet success. Then there are the others that knock you into the current, leaving you gasping for air. Joy mixed with sorrow, laughter taunted by tears.
Today I sorted through trivets. Quite a collection that hung on the brick wall behind the wood burning stove in their home. Some I remember as far back as Long Island, particularly the one about the messy house. That trivet and one featuring Strawberry Shortcake strike me as I realize they capture the way my parents lived their lives. If you knew them, you understand that these two trivets reflect their hearts.
I grew up in a house that was filled with my father’s latest furniture creation, and my mother’s eye for early American collectibles. In later years, stained glass projects adorned every window and surface. They loved to collect and create, and they loved to share their bounty with others. Visitors always left with a “special prize” sometimes being taken right off our walls as they put their jackets on.
As the trivet reveals – yes, our house could be a wreck, and at times it was even worse, but if you appeared at the door, you were always welcomed inside. And that’s a lesson I wished I had woven more into the fiber of my being at a younger age. But in the town we raised a family in – most homes were a decorator showpiece. Inside, ours frequently felt more like playpen meets barnyard, and instead of embracing the joy that represents, I would close the door and stand on the porch. Or toil for hours before friends were to arrive – exhausted and overwhelmed. As a young mom, Martha Stewart and her daily show set the bar for what hosting should look like, and my parent’s messy house didn’t meet the standard. My days were too busy with infants and toddlers to recall the patterns of my youth and what hosting looked like before Martha was an icon.
As a kid, there was always a block of Cracker Barrel cheese in the drawer ready to be sliced, Entenmann’s cake in the cabinet and Pepperidge farms cookies on hand, “just in case company comes by.” As my kids got older – these memories came back, and their friends got to enjoy hospitality “Nelson Style.” We became known for the fruit and cheese platters that would effortlessly appear, and as a place where you could throw your coat and shoes in a heap near the door. Our house might have been dusty – but when the table is filled yummy snacks – no one cares. And the sound of laughter drowns out the noise of household clutter.
Today as I sort through some of these boxes, I find myself able to let go of some of their little treasures – knowing they will be a found treasure for someone else, a “prize” they can have in their homes. The bigger treasures are those trinkets they planted in my heart, my mind, at the core of my being. One of the trivets will hang proudly in my home giving title to the mess, but the other, broken during years of storage will hang prominently in my heart:
“To have enough to share – to know the joy of giving; to thrill with all the sweets of life –is living.”