Cameron Smith: Sorting My Grandparents’ Valuables
This is an opinion column.
We’re having an estate sale at my grandma’s this weekend. After my grandfather died, Nana needed a more manageable lifestyle. As my family prepares their home for sale, a lifetime of my grandparents’ possessions must go. The unsettling process of doing without tchotchkes, pictures and furniture has helped me discover what is worth leaving behind.
Human beings build sand castles. “Dad, look what I’ve done” has been a common refrain for the past decade in my household. I witnessed countless temporary structures created on the beach and in the sandpit. My sons build them with painstaking care, then wind, waves, or an extremely powerful monster resembling one of my descendants smashes them.
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My boys aren’t particularly fond of their sandy builds. They understand that the value of every castle lies in the building process, the history and the people involved. As adults, we begin to believe that our castles, our jobs, and our possessions are very different. The only real difference between my sons’ castles and mine is the time horizon of the move.
One day, friends or relatives will sift through all our possessions. Strangers may wander through the rooms of our homes in hopes of scavenging one of our discounted treasures. People will start forgetting the names of the faces in our family photos.
I laughed as my family tried to appreciate ceramic polar bears, crystal vases and dated art. Our sandcastle tendencies were evident. We didn’t want to let anything go on the cheap. “That Wedgwood ashtray looks precious,” I noted after inspecting the blue disc. “I saw McCoy pottery on ‘Antiques Roadshow,'” my mother said, holding a planter. We searched the internet diligently to make sure we weren’t throwing any treasure.
Unfortunately, we’ve discovered that the market for ornate ashtrays and ugly flowerpots isn’t hot right now. We should have understood that when my grandmother left so much with pleasure.
Possessions have a suffocating quality. We change. They don’t. So we buy more to keep up with the times. The cycle repeats. Too often we cling to our property just in case it comes back in style. I know my grandma isn’t the only person with a plastic tub of Ty Beanie Babies.
Then one day we left and someone else has to decide what to do with it all.
As I watched my mother comb through the leftovers my grandmother threw away, I knew she wouldn’t find what she wanted most. She would trade all the gold, silver and diamonds she could find for a loving mother. Take Waterford crystal and fine art, but give it back the time madness stole from dad.
As my sister, brother, and I worked side by side with our parents and our respective families, I saw before me the most deeply treasured congregation in my grandmother’s house.
We were there for my mother.
My parents built their own sandcastles, but they invested in people first. They have built their lives with materials like love, patience and kindness that resist the withering of time. Old family photographs capture times when my mother might have purchased the latest fashions, jewelry, and trinkets. Instead, I saw smiles on the faces of my friends whom she quietly fed and dressed. My father could have traveled the world and been entertained. Instead, he spent most of his time in dusty stadiums with his children.
Strangers are about to walk through my grandparents’ house. They’ll be digging into my parents’ stuff one day. Eventually they will examine what I leave behind. When that happens, I hope curious buyers find a great buy on a piece of art. Maybe people I don’t know will put my family’s silverware around their huge table. I hope my sons will inherit a legacy that will allow them to get rid of our family’s possessions and hold on to the people they love.
And thank God we don’t have any Hummels.
Smith is a recovering political lawyer with three boys, two dogs, and an extremely patient wife. He engages media, business and politics through the Triptych Foundation and Triptych Media. Please direct outrage or agreement to [email protected] Where @DCameronSmith on Twitter.