The Alabama Housewife
Southern Humorist, Storyteller and Writer
Hello. My name is Mary Alayne and I am a sentimental hoarder. I’m in recovery now but for a good long time; I struggled. I like to say that the great beach house fire of 2017 burned it out of me because there was something freeing and cathartic about filling two construction dumpsters with furniture. And not long after that fire, we moved to the beach full time which meant I had to empty out the house we called home back in Alabama. The place where we spent twenty years raising two children, four dogs and two cats--and when the time came to pack it all up and move away it took me quite a while. We had an estate sale and what didn't get purchased, I gave away. I was so ready to just get it all gone and get out. There wasn't one single solitary thing that I had bought in any store anywhere on this earth that I cared one single thing about keeping. But as I begin to bubble wrap and box up the things I really did hold dear, the memories were like a runaway freight train through my mind. The fingerprint art. The crayon scrawled notes. The clippings from first haircuts tied with pink and blue ribbon. (From the children. Not the dogs and cats.) As I worked my way through the children’s rooms my sentimental thoughts grew larger by the moment. I saw all of the tidbits of a life gone by.... placed lovingly by small hands into old cigar boxes and Barbie lunch boxes and to me they are still worth their weigh in gold. To some, it would all appear to be a bunch of junk that should have been tossed in the trash long ago.
In the South we can be especially sentimental about family heirlooms that pass on from one generation to the next. We can also be rather loose with our definition of heirloom. It’s not always diamond jewelry or a set of sterling silver that was kept hidden from the yankees or the gold pocket watch that survived the great depression. Sometimes it is your grandmother’s cast iron skillet that is blacker than tar from countless pones of cornbread. Maybe it is a shotgun that’s killed many a quail in the hands of your daddy or a pocket knife that is smooth to the touch after spending 40 years in your paw paw’s pocket. Maybe it is an empty champagne bottle from the night a baby was born, or the night of a national championship football game. The treasured memories we tie up in bows around us often aren’t explainable to others but we know deep down inside what they mean. Even if other folks might think we are a bit touched.
After my husband’s grandfather died the family went through his things and found that his wallet was full of cash. Very full. Grandmother Ruby wrapped a rubber band around it and kept it in her purse for over twenty years until she moved into a nursing home. When my mother-in-law took that wallet out of her mother’s purse and put it in her own, every single bill was still in place. My own grandmother passed away a few years ago and we found a letter my daddy had written to her as a child while he was visiting a relative. The paper was thin and the pencil marks faded but you could still read every word. It’s now framed and hanging near my desk and it means more to me than I can say. The things that hold special places in our hearts are rarely those found on the aisles of Target or the pages of mass produced catalogs or boutique shop shelves. The stuff that matters most will conjure up thoughts of a particular person or time in our lives. Sentiment isn’t something you can package and sell, at least not to folks like me- and trying to explain that to someone who thinks differently is a lost cause.
After that big fire --once I knew that everybody was safe--I immediately asked about two things: my grandmother’s wicker desk and a watercolor painting my daughter made in Sunday school when she was about four. Thankfully they both survived and while neither of them would fetch much in today’s market, for me they are priceless. If you’ve been one of my readers for a while, you’ll know that we built our house back right in the very same spot and you likely also know that the desk and the painting still happily reside here with us today. But the truth is, had they been lost in the fire my memories of those people and the times with them would still remain. You see, when we build up troves of things and stuff, no matter how special, we can loose sight of the ones who make them so. And while I’m not looking to toss out the sterling silver any time soon, I plan to keep moving forward with my sights set on those I love with much less thought for the things that can clutter my view.