A rolling stone gathers no moss. We’re not rolling stones anymore.
During our year of travel, Ace I and I gathered few things that we did not immediately consume – simply because, living out of a Jeep Liberty, the bulk of it being occupied by a big dog, there was no space for them (though we did get that cowboy hat).
Once we came to a stop – for now, at least, settling into the home I was born in 57 years ago – we have again fallen under the tyranny of stuff.
For nine months, free of stuff’s burden, we bounced around the country, going to a new town every day or two, and during that time accumulated virtually nothing except friends and stories. After that, during our month-long stops – dwelling in a trailer park in the Arizona desert, an unfurnished house in Baltimore and the basement of a mansion in North Carolina – we slowly started to get new things. Now that we plan to stay put, for six months or more, in Winston Salem – and have hauled the contents of my storage unit down south – we are inundated.
But there’s something else I’ve come to realize, sifting through my personal effects, about stuff: Inanimate as it may be, it has a life of its own, and it often goes on a journey of its own, down a path different than ours. That’s how I end up with your stuff, and you end up with my stuff.
I’m amazed at how much of “my stuff” wasn’t originally my stuff, at how perhaps even the majority of my belongings – furniture in particular – was handed down, recycled, procured through Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, or rescued from Dumpsters into which, in my view, it had been disposed of prematurely.
Our stuff, like people, like dogs, comes and goes from our lives. It moves on to the homes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers, via Goodwill, eBay or Craigslist (a good place to get stuff, just not dogs). It ends up, or so I like to think, where it’s most needed.
I told you last week about my mother’s desk, which became a home furnishing about the same time I did. It was in this house when I was born. I grew up with it in New York and, later, Texas. After my parents’ divorce, my mother kept it until she moved into a retirement community, and I hauled it up to Baltimore. Now, it has circled back to the first home it was ever in.
In my new place, the bed and coffee table I’m using are my cousin’s; the book I’m reading belongs to a Baltimore friend; the dining table I eat on was purchased, via Craigslist, from a local couple who started life together with it, but couldn’t take the fact that it only had three, not four, matching chairs. My clothes are in a dresser that I think once belonged to my father’s parents.
But most of my furniture — not counting that which came from Ikea or WalMart — came from my mother.
She revisited it all last week, coming over for dinner. My sofa, loveseat actually (though rarely used for that purpose, if you don’t count Ace), is one of two matching ones she had. When she moved into a retirement community, she only had room for one. The other went with me to Baltimore, but now sits in my new place, less than a mile away from its mate. In my place, too, are, among her former possessions, some marble egg-shaped bookends, a wingback chair and an old rocking chair she made a point of trying out one more time.
There’s also a large amount of stuff from my ex-girlfriend/still goodfriend, including five of her artworks, now prominently displayed. During my travels she kept some of my stuff. In my recent move, I got some of it back, left some with her, and took a few things she was looking to get rid of, including two bedside tables, some decorative pillows and this tray-like accessory that really pops, which I further like because the blue part reminds me of Ace’s tail.
I reclaimed my blender, for instance, but she kept my grill, my fire pit and, though I could never understand why she wanted it, a sad looking little platform I once built out of three pieces of plywood to make my computer monitor sit higher.
A few weeks ago, it became, with some slight modifications, a hutch for a group of new born bunnies found in her neighborhood.
Our stuff passes from parent to child, from brother to sister, from neighbor to neighbor, from friend to friend, and sometimes even makes it way from home office to animal kingdom.
About three months ago, I gave my friend Arnie in Baltimore my old, then in storage, bookcases. Just last week I sent him the hardware needed to put them together, found in the very last box I unpacked. The couple that moved into the Baltimore rowhouse I rented now has my entertainment center — solely because it was too darned heavy to move.
I guess we all go through life simultaneously shedding and gathering. I turn to Goodwill for both. It has lots of my stuff, and I have lots of their’s, because sometimes we part with stuff that, shortly thereafter, we find ourselves needing again. While staying for a month in an unfurnished rowhouse in Baltimore, I bought this lamp. If I sell it again, it will have to be for five dollars, because the price drawn on its silver base with black marker, I’ve found, is impossible to remove.
During my mother’s visit last week — and we’ll give you the full “reveal” of my new place next week – she also recognized a footstool that once belonged to her. It’s the only item that did not really fit in with my new color scheme — color schemes, though the phrase sounds nefarious, being another thing, like accessories that pop, I learned the importance of during my unfortunate addiction to HGTV.
My mother had re-covered the footstool decades ago with a shiny striped fabric of mauve and blue, so it would match a chair she had re-covered in the same material.
She agreed that, given my color scheme, I should re-cover it again.
“What’s underneath this cover?” I asked. She had no idea.
Removing a few tacks, I pulled it off to reveal the original cushion cover — a handmade needlepoint by her aunt “Tan,” whose grave we had visited and put flowers on the day before Easter.
At the time, not remembering her that well, I attempted to learn more about Tan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall. There’s a school named after her in Winston-Salem, but I could find little information about her on the Internet, as she died in 1983. Leaving a potted delphinium on her grave, I regretted that — even supplied some memories by my brother and my mother — I could reconnect with her only superficially.
It was a little eerie — her handiwork turning up in my house a week after I visited her grave. But it added a little more heritage to my new place, a link (real, not the Internet kind) to another family member, not to mention, though I’m no expert on it, what appears to be some damn good needlepoint.
And, in an added touch of serendipity, it matches my color scheme.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accessories, accumulate, accumulating, ace, animals, aunt, belongings, bookcases, color schemes, connections, craigslist, desk, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, dumpsters, family, footstool, furnishings, furniture, gathering, goodwill, hand me downs, home, junk, kathleen hall, life, loveseat, moss, moving, needlepoint, north carolina, path, pets, possessions, relatives, road trip, rocking chair, rolling stones, roots, serendipity, stuff, thrift stores, travels with ace
One of the reasons Ace and I are lingering in this town – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – is so that I can reconnect with my roots here in my birthplace. An opportunity to do that arose last week.
Tan, or Tan-NEE, as her nickname was pronounced in full, was Kathleen Hall, who, though not related by blood, grew up as a sister of my grandmother. As my mother’s aunt, she babysat me before I turned one – here in the very same house Ace and I recently moved into. Never married, she was a schoolteacher and administrator. She died in 1983, at the age of 92. An elementary school in town bears her name.
Putting flowers on her grave is a family tradition at Easter – one that, if I ever was aware of it, I had forgotten.
Aunt Edna Faye explained that Tan was buried in the Moravian Graveyard, in what’s known as “God’s Acre,” near the Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. She didn’t know exactly where the gravesite was: “It’s behind the church, on a hill sort of to the left, near the sidewalk. It’s on the side that’s towards Salem, not towards Krispy Kreme.”
She asked, when she called on Friday, that I get some flowers and place them at Tan’s headstone.
“There are no containers there, so it needs to be something in a pot, and not a very tall one because it would tip over. Just sort of press it in the ground and stabilize it as much as you can,” she said. Last year, Edna Faye got Tan a pink hydrangea.
When I told my mother – who is Edna Faye’s sister — of the mission, she said she had thought about asking me to do it, but didn’t want to bother me. When I finished reprimanding her for that – explaining that the main reason I’ve temporarily moved here is so she can bother me — she asked if she could come along and quietly watch from the car.
“Hell no,” I answered.
On our way to buy the flowers, she told me a little about Tan, most of which I’d forgotten. She considered Tan one of her four aunts, and perhaps the one to whom, as an adult, she was closest. When my father shipped out to Korea, Tan was there for her, and for long after that. She babysat my sister and me – I being born about nine months after my father returned. She was a much beloved teacher. Her nickname, Tan-NEE, apparently derived from a young nephew’s mispronunciation of Auntie. Her favorite color was purple.
Leaving Ace and my mother in the car, I surveyed the flowering plants outside a grocery store, opting for a delphinium because it was purple, with shades of blue. Ace approved. More important, so did my mother.
At God’s Acre (or Gottesacker, in the old German) members of the congregation were there in droves. The day before Easter is what’s known as decoration day – a time when relatives and church members tidy up the graves, and place out fresh flowers – partly because it’s tradition, partly because a huge sunrise Easter service takes place there the next morning.
People were hauling in plants, pouring bleach on gravestones to remove grey mold, and scrubbing off the grime, some using toothbrushes. All of the headstones at the Moravian Graveyard are exactly the same shape and size – Moravians being big on simplicity and uniformity. The departed are buried chronologically, in the order in which they are “called home to be with the Lord,” and there are no statues or monuments to distinguish the graves of the rich from those of the poor.
Normally, that would have made finding Tan’s grave difficult. But I’d gone on the graveyard’s website the day before, typed in her name and gotten the precise location: Section 1AA, Row 02, Grave 04. Between that and the map the website provided, finding her was easy.
She was buried alongside other women — that, too, being the Moravian way. Men, women and children are buried in separate sections, which stems from the church’s “choir system,” introduced in Saxony by Count Zinzendorf, the renewer of the Moravian Church.
The congregation was divided into groups according to age, sex, and marital status so that each individual might be cared for spiritually according to their differing needs. At worship the “choirs” also sat together – boys on one side, girls on the other.
When death comes, members are buried not with their families, but by the same choir system.
God’s Acre is still used by the Salem Congregation, comprised of twelve Moravian Churches within the city of Winston-Salem. Members of the church gather there the day before easter to ensure that all of the graves have flowers by Sunday.
Other than her grave location, there’s not a lot of information on Kathleen Hall on the Internet, her death having preceded its rise. Even with an elementary school named after her, there are few references to be found, other than a 1939 Winston-Salem high school year book for sale on eBay – one page of which is dedicated to her for her “friendly, untiring and unselfish services.”
My parents left North Carolina when I was one, so, except for a few visits over the years, I never got to closely know Kathleen Hall, who my sister, with slight variation, was named after.
My mother says that when my sister Kathryn was an infant, and wouldn’t stop crying, Tan would take her for car rides, and that made her finally shut up. (I’ll need to remember that next time I visit.)
When my mother moved back to Winston-Salem, in the late 1970s, I’d gone off to college, followed by my first job, far away in Arizona. My younger brother got to know Tan better than me, visiting her, after her retirement, at the Moravian home, where he remembers she liked watching professional wrestling on TV, and drinking banana milk shakes, which he’d always stop and pick up on the way.
I was hoping to introduce Ace to Tan, as I introduced him a few months ago to John Steinbeck, but I decided to obey the “no dogs allowed” signs. I didn’t want him squirting while everyone else was sprucing. He waited patiently in the car, watching from the window, as did my mother.
At Tan’s gravesite, someone had already left a lily, I set our contribution next to it, pushing it down into the moist earth as instructed. Contrary to Aunt Edna Faye’s advice, I picked a flower that grows tall. But I figured even if it toppled, it would keep growing, albeit sideways.
The hillside was filling up with people, armed with scrub brushes, bleach and Comet, and flowers in buckets and wagons and wheelbarrows, paying respect not just with their presence, but with their sweat.
Slowly, the cemetery took on more and more color, as if blooming — with lilies and azaleas and hydrangea and tulips and geraniums and daisies and daffodils.
And, amid the crowd, at least one purple delphinium.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 24th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aunt, burial, church, cleaning, custom, decoration day, delphinium, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, easter, family, flowers, gods acre, gottesacker, grave, gravestones, graveyard, hall-woodward elementary, home, kathleen hall, kin, memories, moravian, moravian graveyard, old salem, pets, purple, relatives, salem, schoolteacher, tan, teacher, tombstones, tradition, travels with ace, winston-salem