In 2016 while cleaning out my grandma’s attic, I held up a dilapidated box that held tap shoes from 1960 when I was four years old.
“Should I keep these?” I asked a friend who was helping us go through the treasure and the trash in a home built in the 1890s.
“Of course!” said Mark.
“Can’t believe Momma saved them! Can’t think why I’d want these.”
“We like old things,” Mark explained.
An epiphany hit me like a couple of rusted TV trays and a stolen ash tray from Caesars Palace (circa 1966). I do like old stuff! Mama Joe’s pie safe where Momma stored mismatched glassware and playing cards; Dad’s beat-up paint stool that my cousin found on Grandma’s back porch; stacks of brittle love letters between Reggie and Gerry (my parents) when they were courting in the 1940’s; a partial set of Shakespeare plays, faded, bent and water-logged, that an intuitive student gave me right before he graduated. “I found these in our attic and thought of you,” he had told me.
Also, my tastes in movies are in the “old” category: Casablanca, High Noon, and Rear Window. Likewise, two of my favorite books are Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights. I adore my turntable and stereo receiver from 1972. The U.S. city I most love to visit- New Orleans – is a place where the past clings to everything like the moss in the live oaks.
Old stuff comforts me. It connects me to some of my best memories. When I use Momma’s bent-up aluminum bun warmer she got as a wedding present in 1954, I remember homemade biscuits in the kitchen with family gathered for a holiday. I smell coffee from a well-used pot on the stove and hear kids and adults vying for space and talking over one another. I recall the taste of hot boudin from Johnson’s Grocery.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with old pictures. I especially love the black and white photos, the ones from before I was born and the ones of me as a child. Life seemed simpler and easier. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but that rose-colored tint does slip over my memories before puberty hit and sent me to the land of pimples and self-doubt.
According to the CDC guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic, I’m “high risk” and I could go to the local grocery store’s early hours for old folks. I suppose Gary (age 75) and I (64 today) are old people.
Too bad our society does not extend a love of old things to old people. No one I know looks forward to old age. We fear the weak mind and frail body as much as the loneliness and incontinence. I wish I felt the same comfort and peace when I hold someone’s wrinkled and arthritic hand that I get when I run my fingers over the dents of a bun warmer or the rough paint flecks of a wooden stool.
I’m not one of the enlightened. I wish these uncertain days with lots of time for reading and praying and thinking might guide me to an appreciation for old stuff that includes old folks. As much as I like my fat-faced images when I was two, I should be kinder to the 64-year-old I see in the mirror now. She’s doing the best she can with what she’s got, and that needs to be enough.