Time Turns A Page

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by jason_els, Sep 21, 2008.

  1. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

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    Sometimes life just sucks. This is one of those times.

    My mom called. We need to go through the upstairs of my grandmother's house and divide-up everything that's there among my myself, sister, and two cousins. One of my cousins is moving in to the upstairs in a few weeks to help take care of my 94 year old grandmother. My grandmother is no longer with-it. After my grandfather passed away four years ago she went into a decline precipitated by a series of small strokes.

    My grandparents were remarkable people. They traveled to every continent, acted as envoys to Kenya, fought in World War II, climbed trees to save them from being chopped down, and never stopped moving. They went up the Amazon in zodiacs while in their 80s, and married for 71 years. Up until the week my grandfather died, they would dismiss the nurse from their bedroom at least once a week. They have both been active in the community volunteering for many organizations and were well-honored for it. When my grandfather died his obituary made the front page of the local paper.

    I have never felt close to my father and the relationship with my mother is rather strained. They separated a number of times before and after I was born, there were moves, there was uncertainty, there was a lot of abuse and endless arguing. Through all that, the home of my happily married grandparents remained a stable unchanging oasis of ginger snaps and formal dinner parties.

    There is, however, more to it than that. My grandparents' house has been in the family for 200 years. The walls are covered with antique wallpapers serving as the background for portraits of ancestors long dead, rooms are filled with heirloom antiques, the bookcases crammed with books from the 1600s through to the present, there are eight or nine silver services and just as many china services. On the dining room wall is a sampler done by my great great great great grandmother and a photograph of my great great grandfather is accompanies by his civil war rifle standing in the corner. The ephemera of generations are littered about from trivial knickknacks to towering trees in the garden, to back hall dressers and closets packed with 19th century clothes. I have diaries from the Revolution and family Bibles over 300 years old. The house is a museum of my history before I was around to remember it.

    At night the house, with tall ceilings, ticking clocks, and portraits of scowling ancestors looming over the staircase, becomes more than a little ominous. As a child it frightened me. If any house should be haunted, I'm sure this one would be. That is until my grandmother once explained to me that everyone of those portraits was someone I was related to, usually directly, and if they were ghosts, then they surely wouldn't hurt me because they would doubtless love me as one of their grandchildren. After that, I didn't fear the darkness. If there were ghosts watching me behind all those dour faces, they were ghosts on my side and, in a strange way, I felt loved. This place was permanent, this house never changed, no turmoil ever happened here, and it would always be that way.

    Until yesterday.

    Yesterday marked the beginning of the end. The house would be dismantled, items distributed among the family, and to accomplish this, I would need to be an active participant. The downstairs wouldn't be touched, but as I saw it, just doing this much was unnerving in the extreme. My mother and uncle had mutually agreed to take the really nice items, leaving we four grandchildren with options for the heavier Victorian mahogany pieces. I was handed a sheet of stickers and could write my name on what I wanted. If more than one person wanted one thing, we would flip a coin. That, however, did not happen. None of us competed for anything. Indeed, we all were very reluctant to take anything because each of us, in our way, dreaded what we were doing. I felt like the scavengers pulling down Scrooge's bed curtains. I felt as if I was robbing a museum, I felt like I was disappointing all those ancestors who could see everything going on under their noses.

    I came away with two Imari chargers, a few porcelain knickknacks, two four-glass mercury pendulum brass carriage clocks, a cherry turned leg nightstand, two prints, and three paintings. Two of the paintings were done in American primitive style and painted by my great great grandmother. I have a hard time looking at them standing against the wall here in my living room without a tear coming to my eye. I also got a huge Eastlake dresser, an Eastlake mirror, my grandfather's tiki patio lamps, and I am now the proud owner of one of the largest and most important collections of steropticon slides in the country. It seems my great great and great great great grandparents LOVED their stereopticons and now I have those too including a very rare table top model in superb condition.

    I DON'T WANT ANY OF THESE THINGS. Much better they should stay where they were. I'm not ready to be their custodian, not ready for them to add to a greater whole as they did before. They're all out of place here in this 1970s ranch house where there is no history to complement them. This house is just a place to live. Someday perhaps, my uncle and then my cousin will move in to my grandparents' house, carrying on the legacy of generations and many of these things can be repatriated.... but I know that's just a pipedream. As much as I would like nothing to change, we can't be prisoners of the past; Miss Havishams waiting for days that will never come. My uncle and cousin may well move in, but it won't be the same. They will have their own households to setup and maintain, wives with their own decorating ideas, and a desire for modern amenities. Some things will stay with the house because we all agree they should. A few 17th century pieces have been handed-down directly and there they will stay unless the farm is sold and we all go our separate ways. This may happen anyway. Our little town has ceased to be secluded. Now we have commuters from New York and a population that has exploded from a few thousand to over 30,000 in less than 20 years. Farming has become unprofitable and impractical. Drivers in a hurry flip off my cousin on his tractor, people honk horns in the village, taxes have soared. The new arrivals are boorish and crass McMansion dwellers who view the town as a nothing more than an investment opportunity where they can raise their kids and leave as soon their nest empties. One by one, the old families who had intermarried for generations have left. There's little reason for young people to stay here any longer. Farmers sell off their land for millions and they take the money and run. We may well be next.

    Nearly all of my grandparents' ancestors arrived here in North America during the 17th century. They left their homes in Europe to travel here, certain that they would never see their families again. We have two chairs and two Bibles from that era. Warwick was not their first stop. For many generations they lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, each time leaving as they saw fit. My eighth great grandmother was the first permanent white settler in the county, my tenth great grandfather was the first white man born in Connecticut. It's difficult to imagine the hardships they went through, the lonliness, the sense of uncertainty that must have driven them. And I think to myself, if they can do it, then I'm pretty sure we can do it too. We're lucky. We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and instant communications. I never have to say goodbye to anyone permanently as they did. I don't have to walk or ride in a conestoga, don't have hostile natives to greet me.

    Yet all of that seems little comfort to me here and now.
     
  2. SpeedoGuy

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    jason, you write such moving posts. I'm awed at your ability to transmit the feelings you're going through.
     
  3. earllogjam

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    Sorry Jason.

    Nothing stays the same. We often would like to freeze those times when we were the most happy or comforted but alas they slip through our hands like sand. Time can be cruel. What we often have left are reminders of those times. Cherish those pieces you have as they will revive those memories of your grandparents and all those who have come before who made you who you are. The house will remain alive within yourself and it will be upon it for you to pass those stories and mementos onto the next generation. You are lucky to have such stories to tell.
     
  4. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

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    Thanks SpeedoGuy :smile:. I appreciate the compliment.

    The entire thing is so destabilizing. Once my grandmother passes then everyone moves up a generation. She's the last of my parents' parents generation and it's frightening to me because it means I become a grandorphan. Time moves so quickly, gathering speed as we get older until it moves at blinding speed and we're left grasping for every second. The horrible irony is that the more we realize how precious time is, the harder it is to capture it.

    My ambivalence is, without question, connected to my deep desire for permanence in my life. What will I have when my touchstone crumbles? I'll be a ship without a home port. Perhaps it's harder because I have no home of my own, no partner, no children. The challenge before me, as I see it, is to determine my own course; create my own home. I can either be the master and commander of my destiny or be a Flying Dutchman at the mercy of fate.

    These things I've inherited can either remind me of the past now lost or remind me of the strength in the people they represent. I never knew my great great grandmother, but from what I know of her, I probably would have liked her. These ancestors, smiling or otherwise, represent a counter to the impermanence of my immediate family. I can hold on to them via their heirlooms-- they're not going to leave me, they're not going to disappoint me. I can imagine of them what I like; whither tyrant or saint makes no difference because they are the love and security I lacked.

    What I don't want to be is left alone with nothing but these things, surrounded by museum pieces who can no more love me than an empty Coke can. Heirlooms are not reliquaries nor planchettes and the sooner I can convince my emotional self to accept that, the easier it will be to move on and live my own life.

    Chains are funny things, they can be either the strongest of supports or the most confining of bonds. I hope I can reforge these into the former.
     
  5. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

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    And even luckier to have such wise and kind friends. :smile:

    My head knows you're right. My heart just aches. It will be a while before there is reconciliation.
     
  6. ManlyBanisters

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    Jason,

    I went through a similar thing when my grandparents passed away. It was on a much lesser scale in terms of the age of the house and contents, but I believe I understand the feelings you are having about the objects and the place. There is no way around those feelings. Something has come to an end and something has been changed irreparably - it is like a death. The dismantling of that part of the house is like losing a relative. You are entitled to grieve and you need to grieve.

    I'm so sorry it isn't possible to keep that house together, as it was. Earl is right - take what you have and cherish it to honour the memory of what can't hold on to. It does hurt, and it probably always will - that's love. We'd all be a lot poorer without it. Small comfort, I know.
     
  7. Smartalk

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    Hi Jason, Thank you so much for sharing your thougts, feelings and emotions with us. As Earlogjam states nothing stay's the same, except the wonderful memories of your loving grandparents, and their wonderful ancestral home with its history and grandeur
     
  8. killerb

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    Dude, are you a writer? If not, you should be.

    Hold on to your good memories & let the bad ones drift away.

    Time will help you take care of that.
     
  9. nudeyorker

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    Oh Jason,
    I'm so very sorry about all of this. I am very moved by what you are going through. But remember how lucky you are to have the memories that you can carry forward and to have had such wonderful grandparents. Things can never replace people or the emotions that go with them. But treasure their memory and pass on the goodness that you have from them and that is the cycle of life. I have a clock that my grandfather gave my grandmother when they came to America. It was a symbol for them as they explained to me as a small child and has become a loving memory of them in my home. I think about them every time I look at it to check the time or wind it. If time does not go forward we stop also. I hope this does not sound like a platitude, because I've been there too.
     
  10. camper joe

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    Jason we all if are faced with this at one time or another. Knowing this will not make it any easier for you. Take solace in that you have your memories.

    I would suggest that before it goes any further, that you document your grandparents' house and personal items, including the inside and out. I suggest this to you, as you might later want to write your family's history for future generations, giving them a visual as well as written history, of what once was.
     
    #10 camper joe, Sep 22, 2008
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2008
  11. exwhyzee

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    Hey Jason, I encourage you to keep writing about this. You are transitioning your family to the next chapter, and it might help you to get all these feelings out on paper. Ten years ago, I did the opposite of what you are doing. My old family farmhouse had been abandoned and left to the elements...and I restored the place and moved a lot of the old family "stuff" (yes I have the portraits too) back into the old family home. I'm sixth generation to have the house, along with my ancestral ghosts. I really appreciate your thoughts and experience in this process, its heartening to see someone values the same things that I do. Please keep a journal.
     
  12. yhtang

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    jason_els, you have my respects. Even in such a stressful time, you are able to see both sides of the coin.

    You are fortunate to have spent time in a house so full of memorabilia, each connected to someone in the family in some distant past. YOur life had been much richer for it.

    My grandparents were piss poor. When they died, there wasn't anything for us grandchildren to remember them by. All I have of them are memories - at least, until Alzheimer's Disease hits me.

    My best wishes to you.
     
  13. B_Think_Kink

    B_Think_Kink New Member

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    It is truly tragic that the house must be seperated as it were. Reading your story made me hope that everything would be able to stay where it was, but I guess we can't get everything we hope for. I wish the best for the outcome of that piece of history.
     
  14. DaveyR

    DaveyR Retired Moderator
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    I can only echo what others have said Jason. You have a great talent for getting depth to the emotion behind your writing.

    One day sometime in the future you will look at the things you have inherited and you will smile and appreciate what memories they stir up in you. :wink:
     
  15. CALAMBO

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    i have enjoyed your post...having similar events in my life, my advice...take your familys heirloom gifts...having them will someday help you remember the wonderlife of your family tree...and you too will be able to pass on the memories of better times...to those who need to know these things, thx for sharing your story..
     
  16. fallon2

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    I think you may be missing the point jason . . . you NOW make your own history with what you have wanted from the HOUSE. Yeah, the stuff may be out of place in your home but the memories of what you had are STILL with you now in your home.

    The memories don't fade with the dead but remain with the living through the pieces you now own. When you look at them the memories will still be there . . . alive and strong and you will smile.
     
  17. JamieBoy

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    "...the home of my happily married grandparents remained a stable unchanging oasis of ginger snaps..." Wow Jason. There's a lifetime of memories caught up in that single sentence.

    You honor your forebears by accepting and cherishing their possessions.
    Go well. Stay well.
     
  18. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

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    I thank you all very much. Being overly sentimental, I tend to ignore the importance of being mindful of the present. It's rare that a thread here has such a concentration of people of quality replying to it. I am honored.

    One of my big projects is accumulating information about my ancestors and creating a web-based genealogy for my family. While I don't have many first cousins, I do have zillions of second and third cousins who feel the way I do. I'm lucky to have so much information all over the region in various places. Creating a visual history of houses, portraits, and artifacts from those ancestors is a big on-going project that I expect will take many more years to even begin to complete to my satisfaction. It will be something to leave to the family after I'm gone. Perhaps that will be my only legacy, so I'd like to make it a good one.

    I will write more about this here. You're right Ex. It is worth it and I have a fantasy of doing much the same thing as you if the house should leave the family. I suspect I will end-up with the portraits, the photos, and the miscellaneous bric-a-brac nobody else wants. My cousins seem to have little interest in keeping these things and that disappoints me a little. At least the heirlooms won't be sold though I worry about what will happen to them after I'm gone as much of the stuff is worth a lot of money. The most I can do is to be a good custodian of them while they're in my possession. What future generations do is up to them. If they really piss me off, I will come back and haunt them no end.

    This Saturday will be spent cleaning out the closets and sorting linens for those who want them, donating newer clothes to Goodwill, and donating antique costumes to the historical society. We have a lot of work to do.
     
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