My maternal grandmother, Carrie Tate, with whom I spent many a summer and lots of family holidays in Olney, Texas, had this piece of furniture, a great big dining room buffet, that ran the length of one whole wall and was strategically located to be handy for gathering clutter. Now Grandmother didn’t see it as clutter; I never heard her actually say it, but I suspect that to her it was just a collection of tidbits from life that needed a place to stay, and on the buffet was their home. I fear the same syndrome has developed in our house and that the tradition lives on in me.
After the afore-mentioned ice box incident (not to be confused with “The Ox-Bow Incident”), I fell into my cleaning mode and decided to tackle the collection of tidbits that had taken up residence in the computer room. This malady used to strike me when I was growing up, usually around bedtime, and would seduce me into organizing the hall closet or my shelves or something else that really could wait till the daylight of tomorrow. But I would push on, much to the dismay of my mother, and usually finish around one or two in the morning. Which of course, made it more difficult to get me up the next day for school.
But to borrow a phrase from Sophia, I digress. I systematically started going through the piles and stacks of pictures, clippings, books, files, mementos, stuff, that I had let collect over time that were taking up valuable desk and closet space. It was just amazing what little treasures and trinkets and words of wisdom I rediscovered in the process. That’s what’s fun about it. And frustrating. I go through this stuff and try to remember why I kept it all in the first place. I reread the clippings, reconsider the recipes that sounded good at the time, relive the memories found in the pictures, flip through the books, and then agonize over what to do with it all now.
I found articles dispensing words of wisdom I planned to pass on to my kids and then didn’t because I backed out for fear of sounding preachy. I found newspaper comics I thought were really funny or appropriate to a future lesson to share with my students. I relived articles that were particularly meaningful to me, like the one from Glamour magazine, May 1993, titled “31 things Mom was right about, even though it kills us to admit it” that I sent to my mother as a tribute to her putting up with me. “Don’t wash dishes without rubber gloves; don’t quit one job until you have another, you’ll be thrilled to have good silver one day,” are three that spoke to me. I came across vitaminds, vitamins for the mind, according to Zig Ziglar, that I would put up in my classroom every day and that still had significance to me, like “Make Your Life Extraordinary,” and “Only Put Off Until Tomorrow That Which You Are Willing To Die Having Left Undone, The hardest lesson in life to learn is which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn,“ and “It’s not the hand you’re dealt, but how you play the cards that counts.” You know, important stuff that I keep holding onto, thinking one day it will come in handy. Or pictures or souvenirs I intend to put in a scrapbook layout one of these days.
The funny part is that, believe it or not, some of the little trinkets I am now having a hard time parting with actually lived a part of their lives on the original buffet: a dog-shaped lead paperweight Grandmother used to hold down patterns when she was cutting out material to be sewn (she never pinned patterns); cast-iron dinosaur figures; an old, old pair of wire-rim eye glasses; old brass buttons; a broken tie clasp; family pictures; cuff links; a scrap of her handmade tatting; and on and on. Some things, however, are really a part of family history. Grandmother’s father was a country doctor. I have his old log book of patients treated, house calls made, babies delivered, and his opium license, apparently required in those days, which cost him $3. I have a soft little leather pouch filled with real gold dust brought back from California by some relative whose name I have forgotten.
Those things, of course, I will keep. They have no real monetary value, but I can’t stand to part with them, and shouldn’t; they are a part of family history. The rest of the stuff filled half a 30-gallon trash can in the garage. What’s left I am still fretting over. I organized and filed, but I am just kidding myself; it is just an avoidance technique. In a few months, a year, whenever, I will find myself going through new clutter and some of the same stuff once again, reliving the memories, rereading clippings, debating once again what to do with all this minutiae that seemed important enough to keep at one time and now seems important enough to make me take pause over it once again.
I guess there will always be a Grandmother’s buffet in our house, thanks to me. I’ll just bet you have one in your house, too. We all seem to have that niche of our own somewhere that becomes our personal version of that buffet, and when something can’t be found, there is always a good chance it will be found on Grandmother’s buffet.
Have you gone through your buffet lately?