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Things and stuff


The late comedian George Carlin had a very clever routine about our desire to collect stuff — and then the lengths we go to to find a place for our stuff. I should have listened to that funny, but insightful monologue long before I finally paid full attention to the point he was trying to make with humor. I’d have wasted much less money during the years and caused myself much less stress in the long run.

The lesson really came home for me in September, 2005, when a tornado (a spin-off from Hurricane Rita) hit one end of our home. John and I were the only ones here at the time. He saw the funnel cloud approaching, ran inside (he had a hard time opening the door because the pressure was already building), and ducked with me into the central bathroom we always hide in during tornado warnings (a fairly common occurrence in Arkansas, particularly in the spring). We’d barely gotten into the room, hadn’t even had a chance to close the door, when the twister hit. It was noisy and scary and happened so fast I’d hardly¬† realized we’d been hit before it was gone, taking one end of our house and two outbuildings with it, as well as knocking over many of our trees and damaging other parts of our house.

We were so fortunate. We were not hurt. Our daughter, who was on her way for dinner in a little Saturn coupe and missed driving into the tornado by only minutes, was unharmed. We lost a lot of stuff, mostly lawn and garden equipment and the things we’d stashed in those outbuildings because there was no room for them in the house, but our most treasured possessions survived (most of which wouldn’t have been considered valuable to anyone but us). Our dealings with our insurance company were only slightly stressful, though the months we spent entangled with The Contractor From Hell, as we refer to him, were a nightmare we thought would never end (and required the assistance of our attorney to finally settle).

Fourteen months after the storm hit, our house was mostly back in one piece (there are still a few minor things we need to repair), and we’d replaced the stuff that needed replacing. But the mental picture of all those broken “things” scattered across our yard stayed with me. All junk now, even though I’d thought at one time that I just had to have them. I thought of Carlin’s description of a house — a pile of stuff with a cover on it. And I began to take stock of the few material things in life that I truly value.

I treasure the things that have sentimental meaning to me. Photos. A couple of trinkets that belonged to my grandparents and great-aunts. A little package-shaped music box my mother bought me in a Branson gift shop and on which she wrote a happy birthday message to me. My great-aunt’s charm bracelet (none of it real gold, but she loved it, and so do I). My grandmother’s glass juice bowl. My grandfather’s broken key chain with his initials on it (same as my married initials). My mother’s favorite china teacup. My husband has a few similar treasures from his late grandparents and father.

We have a large, fireproof safe that would be very disappointing to any thief who managed to break into it; it’s filled with childhood photos of my kids, legal paperwork and a couple of things passed down from my husband’s father and my mother. None of it is worth much in terms of money, but they mean a great deal to us. And yet, if we lost it all, and still had our family, we’d be okay. The memories would still be there, even without the things that trigger them.

My wood-artist husband has made many things for me — beautiful bowls and vessels and pens and Christmas ornaments — but one of my most treasured pieces is the one in the photo above. Using a modified stained glass pattern and wood he rescued from a discard bin, he cut all those little pieces on his scroll saw and assembled them to make an art deco-ish piece for me. It sits on a little brass easel on my mantel. I call her “my lady.” Looking at her makes me happy, which should be the point of all our possessions, no matter what their material value.

Thanks for stopping by. May you find pleasure in the little things in your life during the upcoming week.


Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

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