Memories attached to “stuff”…

It is truly amazing the emotions and memories that attach themselves to things we own like tentacles of an amoeba. Swaying, reaching and gently wrapping their tentacles around the objects, they stir such anxiety,  we are  unable to part with that watch, that necklace, that embroidered handkerchief. If we give up the product, we will in turn forget the comforting memories that lie washed in the soft light of our happy memory banks.

Like these tissues I've held onto since 1997.

Like these tissues I’ve held onto since 1997.

While in Brazil, a family took me in off of the streets when my world fell apart. I spoke only Spanish, and knew not a soul in Sao Paulo. I’d been there only three months when I found myself in a fix, but refused to “give up” and go home. Attending tap dancing lessons, I pulled my shoes off at the end of the lesson and the tears began to fall. The only English speaker in the class asked what was wrong as the other girls crowded around the mess of a foreigner who sat in a heap of tears, still clinging to black tap shoes.

“I had a huge fight with my best friend. She kicked me out where I’m staying, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. She made it quite clear I can’t stay there. She hasn’t spoken to me in almost a week. She said she talked it over with her father and that it’s best if I just go home. I’m not going home. I love it here.”

The English-speaking angel wrapped her arm around my shoulders and said, “Why don’t you spend the night at my house? We’ll talk to my mother. She’ll know what to do.”

And she did.

I spent the following six months using their home as a base, jumping from job to job teaching English. I remember her mother was the one who broke the news to me that Princess Diana died in the car accident. And her mother was the one who sent me to the doctor and paid for my medication while I coughed up a lung, refusing to see a doctor because I had no money.

I don’t exactly recall when she gave me the tissues. Was it when the news of Princess Diana’s death sunk in? Was it during the hateful cold I couldn’t shake? I don’t recall. I do recall I only used two of the tissues out of the mini pack.

My English-speaking angel’s mother suffered from pancreatic cancer the entire time I resided with them. She’d already suffered through a double mastectomy, I believe. Chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out, and I only knew her bald. She wrapped her beautiful head in fashionable, delicate scarves. One evening while visiting her in the hospital, a blood vessel burst between her eyes, leaving her with an elegant, exotic, red dot like the women wear in India.

Young, and stupid, I didn’t know what to say, but I wanted to make her feel better. I gushed, “Oh, how lovely and exotic you look with your red dot.” She began to cry, reached over and hugged me.

These are the memories that flood back when I pull the packet of tissues from a special box I keep along with her picture in a golden frame and the touching eulogy from her funeral.

Mostly, I remember sitting on the couch and telling her that maybe I should go home. What was I doing in Brazil? I had no job. No plan. To which she replied, “What you are doing is very important, Jennifer. You are learning and growing and expanding your mind. You are branching out and experiencing things you may never have the chance to see and do again. I traveled the world with my sister when I was your age. It is something I would never trade and never regret. You will stay right here, in my house, as long as you like.”

How can so many memories be attached to one little packet of tissues? How difficult it is to let go of things that have such grand meaning. I simply cannot do it. When I hear my husband’s words of “My grandmother gave that to me,” and I hear myself respond, “Honey, it’s an atlas. She gave it to you in 1994. The roads aren’t even the same anymore. I’m sure she just gave it to you because she was finished with it, not because she meant for you to keep it forever,”  I have to consider how easy it is for me to rationalize because I have no memories attached to that particular atlas. And I remember the Brazilian angels who rescued me and the tissue packet.

He could say the very same thing to me. “For God’s sake, Jennifer. It’s a packet of tissues. She gave it to you for you to use. Blow your nose and get rid of them.” I wonder about the memories my husband has attached to that atlas of his grandmother’s. A special hug. The smell of baked cookies. The memory of her grey hair pinned up just so. The way she laughed when she entered the front door on a visit, bending down to welcome two running boys into her arms.

Even without the object, the memories remain, but there is something about picking it up in your hand and holding it, isn’t there?


A special thank you to Marcia and her girls for “giving” me Brazil. I think about your mother every single day.



Are you able to let go of things easily or do you struggle, afraid to let go of the object for fear of losing the memories?


8 responses to “Memories attached to “stuff”…

  1. That was a fantastic post Jennifer, it made me have tears in my eyes, so loving, caring and sincere…I have many things that I just cannot throw away..birthday cards from manh years children, s drawings from pre school so ghey are over 50 yearsold…dogtags from pets who have died..a tiny yellow knitted vestthat

  2. My mother made before she died. It shows that we care.
    Could you write more about your earlier sounds most interesting

  3. You hit home why I have a clutter problem. I have vivid memories associated with most objects at home, precious or otherwise. I still have notes written by my grandparents I just can’t throw away. ((hugs)), thanks for sharing your memory with us.

  4. Thanks for this look into your past Jennifer, objects we cherish are attached to the fabric of our lives. Memories are priceless!

  5. I actually have an old Basic PT shirt from 1998 that makes me think of you every time I wear it. (I only wear it to bed now.) It makes me think of how you were in charge of laundry and how you stressed one day bout an inspection we were going to have and couldn’t get your t-shirt drawer quite right. You were in tears and you asked me to help you. (I gladly obliged) It also makes me think of us running together at PT and I had such a hard time…. you would slow down and run with me and say, “Hope, you can do it! Just one more lap!” I have many memories of that 6 weeks, and you are in almost every one, but those are the ones that stand out the most to me when I wear that shirt. 🙂 Love you girl. XOX

  6. Great post Jennifer. Nice to read such a touching personal story. 🙂 Most of my precious objects are in storage somewhere – can’t carry around everything – try to keep those special memories in my head, objects to help keep the memory.

  7. That was beautifully written – I enjoyed reading it. I’ve had things in the past that I had great attachment to too – in the end, moving gave me a chance to purge a lot of them and it felt much free-er, but I still hang on to small things. Some things you need to be able to see and touch.

  8. What a lovely story. Brought tears to my eyes when she said: What you are doing is very important, Jennifer .You are learning and growing and expanding your mind.” What a beautiful gift to receive!

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