Friday, September 18, 2009

Ross Winter's Punch Bowl

Am I my resume?

The performers in “A Chorus Line” ask that the question during auditions for a show.

More to the point, am I my maternal grandmother’s cookie press? Her metal bunny cake mold? How about my paternal grandmother’s crystal sherbet glasses? Her monogrammed tablecloth? What about my father’s Navy uniforms? My mother’s embroidered handkerchiefs?

Am I Ross Winter’s punch bowl?

Of course I am not these things, and they are not me. Still, I found myself reluctant to get rid of that punch bowl, the hankies, the uniforms, the linens, the glasses, the cake mold (complete with ancient lingering crumbs) and the cookie press.

Eventually, my more practical self took over and I let go of all those items except the handkerchiefs. I’ve made it a point to keep something meaningful from each of these beloved family members to take with me when I move to San Francisco.

Am I discolored, misshapen pieces of Tupperware? Three chipped candles with missing wicks? A scratched-up soup pot? A raggedy, faded pink blanket? A rusty bread pan? Of course not – and what is this junk doing in my house? I made three trips to the condo's trash room today.

In the back of a kitchen cabinet I found a rice cooker for the microwave, complete with instructions. I bought it in 1997 and have yet to use it. In a box on a high shelf in the closet, I found a souvenir maraca from Cuba, a gift from friends of my parents when I was 10. Next I discovered a cache of grade-school art projects – not my son’s, but my own, in a box obviously packed by my mother. She died in 1973.

All week, I’ve been getting rid of Stuff -- winnowing and sifting, then packing up the car and driving boxes full of my past to a resale shop.

“What is this?” asked the manager as he unwrapped one of my donations.

“A candy dish,” I said. “It was my grandmother’s.” He looked surprised.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I kept my favorite one, the one that always sat on her coffee table with butterscotch drops in it.”

Did you know that most people use 80 percent of what they own only 20 percent of the time? I heard that on a radio program recently. I know what I use, and how often. The trick is to figure out what I’ll miss.

“I had a lovely home, full of lovely things, and when my husband died I got rid of almost everything,” counsels a neighbor. “I don’t miss any of it.” Another neighbor, encountered in the elevator today, echoed the same sentiment. “Things just don’t matter,” she said.

For years, I had a wall in my home office full of photos of whales. Now I don’t need those photos, because finally I am going to live near the real thing. One startling photo shows the raised tail of an immense right whale in Patagonian waters off Argentina. I took that picture from the back of a small boat, and though I had no time to aim or focus – the majestic tail rose suddenly, silently – it is the best photo I ever shot.

I know that I would miss that photo, so I’m taking it along to serve as a reminder, a touchstone of the past, as I head into the future. The punch bowl, however, is looking for a new home.

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