Pinned to the past

The pewter urns. The silver. The furniture of known provenance. Now I know why the pharaohs were buried with so much stuff.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Mommy’s clothespins! They were at least as old as I am and could have been much older. They could have been her mom’s.

I’m not much of a hoarder. Still, there’s stuff.

My husband, Dave, knocked the hoarder out of me early. I’d begun to accumulate treasures. It wasn’t his style to grumble outright, but he did like to mention, while examining some tchotchke, that if he had his way, he’d live in a house that could be cleaned with a fire hose. 

I’d already bought him a pressure washer, sensing somehow that he would really like it, and he really, really did. It frightened me how much he liked it. The man would blow the hide off a dusty buffalo if it wandered into our yard. 

I visualized my little treasures pulverized and began to divest. It wasn’t that hard: I discovered that the clean, spare spot left behind was like another little treasure.

But some things are harder to get rid of. What never seems to go away is the stuff that came down through the family. Photograph albums from nearly the dawn of photography. Newspaper clippings about dead relatives that have been allowed to yellow in peace. (The clippings. The relatives tended toward sallow, too.)

And then there are the serious family items. The pewter urns. The silver. The furniture of known provenance handed down through the centuries and landing with a thud on my childless self. It ends with me. I can’t give it away. Now I know why the pharaohs were buried with so much stuff.

But it’s other stuff too. The clothespins. I still have Mommy’s bag of clothespins! The clothespins of Mommy! They were stashed in the basement dust near the clothes dryer that had made them obsolete. But a few years back I fired the dryer and brought out the clothespins.

Mommy’s clothespins! 

They were at least as old as I am and could have been much older. They could have been her mom’s. Some had springs and they weren’t rusted or anything – they worked fine. Most were the peg kind. The kind people use in crafts; the kind kids make stick people out of. I left them out in the rain a few too many times and they got a little funky. They began to leave marks on my laundry. They had to go. But where? I couldn’t just toss them out. Because they were Mommy’s. Mommy’s! She’d had them in her apron, in her fingers, in her mouth. With the right laboratory and a little skill, we could clone the sweetest woman in the whole wide world from one of these. We could clone a bunch of them! I have a lot of clothespins.

Then it occurred to me. There is a cool local outfit that sells recycled everything – anything a child could use in crafts. They’d love my clothespins! They’d appreciate my clothespins! 

I put them in a bag and Dave and I hiked over to the store. The clerk bustled by with boxes from someone’s tailgate. She looked harried. “I’ll be with you in a second,” she said, not meaning, actually, the very next second. 

Many, many seconds later she came back, pushing a lock of hair from her sweaty forehead.

“If she doesn’t want my clothespins, I’m taking them back,” I’d told Dave, while we were waiting. “You hear me? They’re going in my tomb.” Dave looked wary. There’s going to be a tomb, now?

“What’ve you got?” the clerk said, weary.

“Heirloom clothespins,” I said, holding out the bag. She opened the bag. She looked inside. Mommy was in there. Mommy wafted right up out of the bag and unfurrowed the clerk’s face. 

“Heirloom clothespins! I love them!” She clutched the bag to her chest and walked away with a big dopey smile. That made three of us.

Mommy always could do that. 

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