Time Machine


If the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem, then I admit I have a problem. For example, a writing prompt from earlier this week suggested that I write an elegy to someone or something that I had to lose or give up. I wrote about an inanimate object—a dining room table—that mom bought while she was living with my dad in California. It was one of many of her treasures. She often told me the story of how she found the table in the first place. How she and my father loved to wander through antique shops in Los Angeles whenever he was home on military leave from the Army.

My parents would spend hours walking from one shop to another along an avenue that was by description similar to the garment district in New York City. The crowded streets and sidewalks overflowed with racks and stacks of clothing items, shoes, purses, men’s suits and jackets, hats and ladies’ jewelry. Along the way a happened upon treasure of a finely carved pair of end tables or a mahogany rocking chair.

The street corner vendors’ invitations were irresistible to antique lovers like mom and dad as they leisurely meander from one storefront to another. Vendors everywhere hawked their wares, offering deals on some of the common items if they had overstock. Other one-of-a-kind items, like mother’s dining room table, were non-negotiable.

Mom was hooked the moment she saw the bright gleam of the mahogany surface. She loved the sensuous lines of the legs that extended from the center outward toward the edges, perpendicular to the short ends of the table. Fabulous. And with an extra extension, it would be perfect for dinner parties and family gatherings. She had to have it and Harry Earl would not deny her. He loved the look on her face as much as she loved old things.

Once the piece was home, she treasured it with a splurge of table pads, and an expensive lace tablecloth. Now the table was complete and she was ready for her first dinner party with the new piece.

My problem? I simply love this story. I can imagine the two of them walking, arm in arm after dinner. It would have been in the late ’40s and 50s, before I was born and the responsibility and obligation of taking care of me extinguished the fire of love and romance.  But the real problem is not an overly active imagination. It is something far more complex.

It has to do with my resistance to letting go of the past. It has to do with occasionally wanting to step into a time machine and revisit the past. It has to do with treasuring old things, loving old things, being sentimental about old things. Ultimately is has to do with feeling guilty about loving old things and being vilified for it as well.

Now, as I step in to the looking-glass of 2012 with only a few hours left of 2011, I long to go forward and backwards at the same time. You see, I have been struggling with what to do with mother’s things, even though they have sentimental value to me. I feel that it is wrong to feel this way about things. I feel that I might be a borderline hoarder or something because I have so much trouble parting with things. After all, any well-adjusted person would remind me that they are just that—things. A normal person would argue that the person to whom they belonged is gone and will not come back, regardless how tightly I cling to their things.

But the normal, well-adjusted person doesn’t understand that I hear their voices in their things, I remember what they look like in their things, I recall their admonishing and wisdom when I look at or talk about their things.

I hope 2012 is a better year for me. I feel I have learned a lot in these last 12 months: mother falling, mother admitted to the hospital and kept for over a week, mother being transferred to a nursing home, mother getting worse and progressively refusing to walk, get out of bed, and eventually she stopped eating and talking. Six months from the time of her fall, mother lowered into the ground. I put on a good front, but I am numb. It is too soon for me to let go.

But I have at least here, tonight, with you admitted to having a problem.

Happy New Year, everyone.


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