The Things We Keep

I want to tell you about my friend Jackie,

Last summer at the Eastern Shore

who moved about three months ago from Virginia to Pennsylvania, which is  home to her even though she has lived here for 16 years. Isn’t that how it goes sometimes….you live somewhere, with friends and furniture and fun memories, but those fixtures are not enough to ease the longing for that place we call home, that sense of truly belonging, with the people we love most, trying to fill the void that can’t be appeased with all the stuff we have accumulated.


Jackie had spent nearly a full month culling out the things she no longer wanted or needed (an exercise could all benefit from if we had the motivation she does). She had a yard sale, then donated several boxes to a local charity, and even gave some things away (I got 2 plants and Pampered Chef pitcher!). She sorted and saved, wrapped and rewrapped,  packed and  piled her things to keep and to let go of. She started out quite deliberately, and then as the time of leaving got closer (and as friends were more objective than she), released some things to make room for the new life she was curating.

I went to help her or hang out a few different times. I admit I was a little jealous of the wide-open, fresh-start future awaiting her. She returned home, but I don’t know where my “home” is. Her roots go deep; mine go wide. Her parents live in the house she grew up in; not only are my parents both deceased, but my closest sibling to my home town is nearly 100 miles from there. She had a plan; I feel  adrift most days. She is single, never married, no kids (but 2 adorable dogs); I am solo, hundreds of miles from my nearest sister and thousands of miles from my three kids and five grandkids, still occasionally overcome with memories and dreams of a life that has been short-circuited. Of course, I am happy for her, and truth to told, I am not unhappy with my own choices to stay put and wait for inspiration.

It was interesting to peek into the pieces of her life as we packed and rummaged through closets and arranged the stuff that makes up her. I was reminded of how I painstakingly went through each and every single item that was Kevin’s after he died, which has taken me most of three years to do. And I couldn’t help but think as I drove away from Jackie’s what it would (a) take to divest myself of my stuff to make yet another move and (b) for my kids to someday have to go through this exercise without me. Except for the “crap” (as Kevin would call it) in my Diva Den, which is all my crafting/sewing/painting/unused exercise stuff, I think I don’t have all that much that would cause them to ask “WTH was she thinking?!??  It may not all be necessary, but it’s comforting and meaningful, and it reflects me.

So back to Jackie. One 30-something aged woman, two dogs. A yard sale, a donations pile, a large trash bin. A 20′ U-Haul, a car trunk, and a full SUV. Full of energy and optimism. Kevin went quietly and quickly, without a dime, nor a pair of shoes on his I-hate-bare-feet, nor his glasses to see where he was going, a book for while he was waiting at the Pearly Gates, not even a pair of pants or even his own toga! He left behind friends, memories, and a garage and one attic full of just his stuff. That’s the way to go, I guess.  If prepping and packing and purging weren’t so dramatic and draining, I might consider it myself. If I knew where to go. So I’d know what to keep and what to let go of.

Once I had to make a bottom-line decision about what to keep. It’s like those people who face evacuation from a raging fire or a hurricane. My house was in imminent danger of flooding (Moorhead MN, April 1997). I was going to have to leave. I told my boys to pack up a suitcase each with enough clothes for a week, and I had friends clean out the refrigerator and freezer. I took my box of important papers and a stack of photo albums (yeah, it was before the digital age). And we drove  away. It was not hard in that moment to prioritize my valuables. I was mentally prepared to completely start over if I had to.

What is hard is going down Memory Lane, taking detours, reliving every significant moment, touching your past, and deciding what things to keep. Is the apron my great-grandmother crocheted important enough? What about my favorite book(s)? The wedding dress? The pottery collection? How about those red plates I got a second job for so I could afford them? The basket of old love letters and other memorabilia from school days or between-husbands days? The 60 or so dragonflies that adorn my walls? My $300 leather planner? Oh, and the painting I commissioned of the adobe wall and the hollyhocks? I love that painting. The curio cabinet Kevin gave me for Christmas? The sleigh bed I always wanted and now have? The cedar chest or what’s in it?

How much of all the stuff I have is “valuable” because of the joyful experience I had acquiring it rather than any monetary merit? What is replaceable, if I could afford to buy it new? What have I forgotten that I even had, so therefore should be willing to not keep  any longer?

I have moved at least a dozen times in my adult life. For about the last three times, I’ve said This is the Last Time! And yet, I don’t think it is. Above all, what I want to keep is my sense of self, the Me I’ve become in the past three years, while keeping the Me I was that made me who I am. Kevin’s death forced me to face the reality that life is short and so should be really lived, not endured. Helping Jackie prepare for her move showed me that while it is work, it is work worth doing to dream up new dreams and chase them down.

Another thing Jackie’s leaving has taught me is about the impact on others that you are in a relationship with. Usually it is me who does the leaving. Those dozen moves were all me driving down the highway. But this time Kevin left, and I stayed. Last year my next-door neighbors Richard and Rosie moved across town, and I stayed. Buddy died, and I am here. Now Jackie is off to Pennsylvania, and I’m still here. Maybe I’m still here because it is my time to understand how it feels when someone else leaves and I stay. Maybe what I need to keep now is my compassion and my generosity of spirit in helping others  … helping raise grandkids? Helping them to be curious about life, to go exploring, to have adventures, to make memories. To know that even when someone leaves, it’s not about you; it’s about them. To know that life goes on and relationships can still continue and thrive. That the things we keep are up to us, whether it’s a memory, an artifact, a secret, a friendship.

Jackie is coming back here for a visit, and I’m happy to report we’ll be spending some time together. We’ve managed to stay in touch by phone, text, and Facebook, so it won’t be awkward to pick up where we left off. I remember what I used to sing as a Girl Scout when I was younger:

Chloe                     Chewie

Make new Friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.


(Shout out for Jackie’s two dogs, Chloe and Chewie who have their own blog at, and a facebook page at Life Adventures of Chloe & Chewie.)


  1. Armen Pruden

    Oh how fitting for me! I’m in my new home. Now I have 100 boxes to unpack and find somewhere to put it. The family is pitching in to help. Still thinking about the wonderful breakfast you treated me to on the last day in Williamsburg. Thank you for your friendship. Oh I can’t wait for you to see the table in the breakfast nook. Hugs

  2. Keep Grandma’s apron. You cannot replace her hands that stitched it. Almost everything else, mass produced, you can. Siblings, however, you cannot replace. 😉

  3. At least, we don’t think we’re mass produced.

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