Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spinach Salad with Insight on the Side

Start with half a bag of baby spinach leaves that have been washed and gently dried. Add red bell pepper strips, a sliced hard-cooked egg and a handful of feta cheese crumbles. Throw in a few chopped walnuts, a dozen or so dried cranberries and some pumpkin seeds. Add ground pepper and a shake of Mrs. Dash. Toss with your favorite salad dressing.

Ta-da: Supper! Time to sit, eat, take stock.

The buffet and china cabinet are empty, except for the wine glasses I’m taking with me. The utility closet holds a few items I’m keeping, but is otherwise cleaned out. Kitchen cabinets and drawers contain only those dishes, glasses and utensils that are going to San Francisco. Winnowing of the pantry – not including food, of course – is almost complete. The file cabinet is empty. Half the dresser and vanity drawers are empty.

The closet – my huge, glorious closet that a real estate agent once described as “an Affton bedroom” – is still on the to-do list. The coat closet also is waiting for attention. Until last week, the closets were jam-packed with wall art. Then I toted 23 posters and pictures to a resale shop. I kept my favorites, and a few I’m on the fence about. I keep reminding myself I will have fewer walls in a small apartment.

As a result of eight trips to the Book Fair drop-off bin and several targeted donations, I have carted 46 boxes of books out of my condo. As I write this, I see a few more titles that could go. Don’t think that I have given away all my books – I still have enough to fill one large bookcase and one small; mostly poetry, books on writing and books on wildlife.

For the first time since I moved here 11 years ago, the storage closet in the basement is packed with furniture that was assessed as clutter when I put the place on the market. (Much of what’s in there is leaving Tuesday.) When I bought the condo, I did not realize that a storage closet was part of the deal. For years, just one item sat there: my grandfather’s metal lawn chair, a chair that my father had had sand-blasted and painted several times.

My grandfather died before I was born, so I did not know him, but I did know and love his chair. Many a spring, I brought it upstairs and put it on the deck. In May, when I decided to move to San Francisco, that chair was the first thing I thought of. Who should get the chair? I called my aunt, my dad’s only sister, and asked if she wanted her father’s chair. She did not. Then I called her red-haired son, my cousin Steve, who lives in Texas.

“I have Grandpa Corrigan’s metal lawn chair, and I can just see you sitting in it on your patio, barbecuing and enjoying a beer,” I said. Steve laughed and agreed that he could see that, too. When the family gathered for Aunt Betty’s 80th birthday in June, I drove the chair to the small town in Illinois where my aunt lives. Steve took it from the back of my car and we put in on the lawn. I went inside to get Aunt Betty.

We walked out to the yard and stopped in front of the chair. I asked my aunt if she remembered it. “I do,” she said, smiling. Then she sat – for the first time in 50 years – in her father’s chair. Throughout the afternoon, we all took turns sitting in the chair, a humble yet powerful link to those who came before us.

Preparing to leave St. Louis started with that metal lawn chair. In the process of giving away more things – many, many more -- I have been redefining myself, building on who I was, tweaking who I am, getting ready to welcome who I will become. Letting go of tangible objects has allowed me to make room for new routines in a new realm, and I now understand the value of that process.

All this, over a spinach salad.


  1. Pat, I am so glad that you are writing this blog. Reading each entry is a chance to spend a few moments with you, and to realize again how you have given us each insight into why we need friends, how we must laugh, even what it is to be alive. And all with the simple and elegant writing that just flows from your mind to your fingers.

    Promise me that you will keep up the blog when you get to San Francisco, so we can all stay a part of your new life there.

    Thanks for --- well, just thanks.

  2. I wonder why it is that chairs seem to have so much importance. I have several sit-upons (not the girl-scout kind) of my mother's - plus my favorite, the "high chair". It's wooden - it was my mother's high chair, and several of her siblings. She used it with all four of us. My father refinished it long after we had all grown - to use with my brother's first-born. Somehow it lost it's table part - it only has the chair now. But I have it and MY older grandson loves to use it when he's at my house. Somehow these seem to be links to our past - and I know how difficult they are to part with. You have to find them their right resting places. I'm so glad you found the lawn chair it's "right place"!