Monday, November 2, 2009

My (un)sentimental journey

At book club last week, the conversation turned to childhood – what was important to us, what we kept and these kids today!, etc. etc. Many of the women still had dolls they received as Christmas and birthday gifts as girls. Some of them still had papers and artwork from elementary school, poems they had written at the tender age of 6 and letters from first loves.

I contributed very little to this conversation – except to lament the passing of my beloved Charlie's Angels treehouse, which my little sister sat on and destroyed not long after I received it – because I never kept anything. Neither, to my knowledge, did my mother. I don't have old love letters or report cards or newpaper clippings or even photos, for that matter. I have an album with some photos I took in high school with my own camera, but hardly any of me before age 15. I don't have stuffed animals or dolls given to me by friends, family or boyfriends. (Actually, Royal made the mistake of sending me a stuffed teddy bear for some reason in our early stages of courting. I was touched by the underlying emotion for the gift, but quickly informed him that I was not a 9-year-old girl, and from now on all gifts should be chocolate-related.) In fact, I don't have a single thing in my current house that shows I even existed before the age of 30 or so.

I'm fine with not having these things. I don't have them for many reasons, one of which is that I don't like clutter. But another reason is that I'm just not that sentimental. “Stuff” holds no emotional value for me. Here's the problem: Should I be more sentimental? I think it says a lot about me that I'm not attached to things, but maybe it's not a good thing. Are people who hold on to old mementos living a richer life, or are they stuck in the past?

I have wondered if my opinion might be different if I had lost one or both parents, or even my grandparents. Would I have kept that awful music box with the ballerina that my grandmother gave me at 27 if she had passed away soon after? I know the answer: no. Besides being a little insulted that I got the same gift as my 12-year-old cousins, simply by virtue of being the last single woman in the family over the age of 18, that music box didn't represent anything to me. It was just a thing. It didn't cook a pot of chicken and dumplings for me, or let me eat all the cheesecake I wanted or hold me in its lap on the front porch swing. Those were all things my grandmother did for me growing up and I'd never, ever forget them. Same with my parents or friends or husband or anyone else I've ever loved. I don't need a letter or a teddy bear to remember why these people or certain experiences in my life were important to me. The best thing I can do, to make sure I continue to remember, is to write it all down. Every wonderful, awful, exciting, life-changing episode so I can remember it always.

Maybe I am a little sentimental -- I just don't measure it in stuff saved, but in words.

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