RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Life's collectibles lose their meaning with the loss of a life companion

Most of us fool ourselves, thinking the stuff we accumulate has meaning. There is the cypress box from the Crawfish Festival, the Mardi Gras beads from New Iberia, the pottery lamp from Pass Christian. There’s the painting by the talented Angola prisoner serving time for murder.
It is amazing stuff, quality stuff, a lifetime’s worth of souvenirs and satisfaction. And when we are gone, somebody someday will be glad we bought it all and left it to them.
Unless, of course, our friends and kin have different taste or they want to buy their own whatnots and furniture. Then what happens?
I can’t help but be maudlin as I prepare to sell the little house near the Atchafalaya Swamp that Don and I had for a decade. This was such a merry home, where friends would meet and eat and let the good times roll. We lived here.
Now it is quiet and depressing and crammed full of things, useless things mostly, that must be moved. I gloomily survey. There’s the red-and-blue suitcase in the attic full of photographs from happy times. There are the boxes marked “Good Christmas Stuff,” as if there’s any other kind. The attic is full of such dusty excess, and now it, too, must come clean.
As I march up and down the ladder-like steps, I detest my past and its wake of clutter. How could I have filled such a remote space with things I obviously did not need? Things that now are to be sold for pennies on the dollar, or distributed to younger folks still in the phase of life when you think material things matter.
My maternal grandmother had a few things to be divided when she died. Family quilts. Her good church dress she made herself. A few broaches. Prints of flowers and fruit on the dining-room wall. Basic furniture.
But she didn’t have collections – except for photographs of her grandchildren, if that counts – or closets full of shoes she had not worn in years. She didn’t have more lamps than she needed to see by, or more dishes than Target.
She loved to read, and did, but somehow she didn’t have shelves full of books. And her cosmetics were confined to a Coty powder box and soap.
She had what she needed, and that’s what she left behind.
I, on the other hand, have perused the junk shops for decades, finding and acquiring treasures at an alarming rate. Things that I had to have.
I have an ashtray that says “Jimmy Carter, 39th President,” and two paintings of the Paris bookstalls. I have not one, but two, coffee tables, and they are loaded with candles and wooden baskets from the New Orleans French Market. I have cabinets full of gumbo bowls and French champagne glasses, fleur-de-lis candleholders and tapers shaped like bamboo.
I have moved many times in my adult life, as many as 17, I think; I lose count. But this move is not for a better job, a new house or marriage, a step toward the future.
This is about closing down, consolidating, ending something I wasn’t ready to end. This is about Don’s death and my life and a thousand pretty things that have about as much meaning as Greek to a goose.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

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