My Mother’s belief in preserving things for future use
My mother was good at “savings things,” preserving them for some future special occasion. She saved things because she didn’t want them to get broken. Maybe she just wanted people to notice objects when she finally decided to use them. Possibly, she was emotionally attached to certain items that she didn’t want to sully them with everyday use.
I remember the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet, far out of reach, where a frosted glass pitcher painted with deep purple violets sat. Every time I asked Mother if we could use it because it was so pretty, Mother would say, “No. That was a wedding gift. I’m saving it for a special occasion.” Fifty years later, I can visualize a set of hand-painted china plates and matching cups that were NEVER taken out of the cupboard. Mother NEVER used them, keeping them safe from breakage or chips. When she had to move into an assisted living facility, she didn’t have room for them.
Years ago, Mother nearly had a heart attack when she saw me put my china into the dishwasher.
“But, Missi,” she shuddered, “the dishwasher will rub the gold finish off the edges and they’ll be ruined for later.”
I assured her that by the time the gold is worn off, I wouldn’t care. Besides, I’d rather risk the loss of gold and enjoy the beauty of the dishes than have them gather dust, unseen in a cabinet. If I use them, I’ll get joy NOW. Why should I wait?
An old quote says, “Do it now. Sometimes ‘later’ becomes ‘never.’”
I was reminded of that long-ago conversation with Mother the other day when I pulled a folder off the shelf in my office. It was filled with magazine articles and old newspaper clippings with stories that had resonated with me. One yellowed page was a story that was a commentary on Mother’s belief that things should be “saved” for special occasions. It went like this:
A man lifted a tissue-wrapped bundle from his wife’s drawer.
“This is not a slip. This is lingerie,” he sighs as he hands it to his sister-in-law who ooohed and aaahed about the beauty of the silk and the lace. The tags, marked with an exorbitant price, were still attached.
“She bought this eight years ago on trip together and had always said she was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is special, all right.”
The man and his sister-in-law were preparing for his wife’s funeral. His urgent admonition comes at the end of the column:
“Don’t EVER save anything for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.”
Every day you’re alive IS special
I’ve always rebelled against the idea of “saving” things. The clippings in my folder were evidence of that because more anecdotes on that topic were stashed there. An 83-year-old woman’s letter to a friend echoes the theme:
“I’m not saving anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis bloom. I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is that if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries.
I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties, but am wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank. ‘Someday’ and ‘one of these days’ are losing their grip on my vocabulary.
If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now. I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives.
And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that every day of my life is a special occasion.”
Amen! Amen! Amen!
I loved my mother but not her tendency to save things for “later.” She wanted things to be “special,” but it never dawned on her that each day was an opportunity for joy and a reason to celebrate. All those things that she had so carefully preserved for special occasions could have been adding laughter and luster to her life. Instead, they were dusty, unused, and stacked in dark cabinets when she died.
The older I get, the more I understand that life offers no guarantees. That the Coronavirus, or a car accident, or an aggressive form of cancer can get me at any time and without any warning. Life is short. Time is fleeting. I can’t afford to save things for special occasions or wait until “later” to celebrate.
Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. At the ending of her poem, “Mornings at Blackwater,” she urges us to live NOW — in the present — not saving things for later or worrying about special occasions.
“What I want to say is
That the past is the past,
And the present is what your life is,
And you are capable of choosing what that will be,
So come to the pond,
Or the river of your imagination,
Or the harbor of your longing.
And put your lips to the world
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