Everyday Observations: The meaning of keeping things from the past


Whenever you think of your grandparents, you think of the things they had but are now long gone. Things that you wish you still had but for some reason don’t. Only grandparents have those kinds of things. We’ll all be grandparents soon enough.

Like those treasure chests at the end of beds or in closets. They looked like something too fancy for your household, and you wondered how they were passed down through the ages. They surely must have been handed down from aristocrats or royal families. The people you wish to claim as far away ancestors.

My grandparents liked to keep things, just to keep them. That’s what you do when you grew up in the great depression. The old jacket from high school. The wedding dress you can’t fit into anymore. The lucky hat, the noisy washing machine, the big box TV. The kinds of things that we switch out regularly because we can. Those things they kept.

Not only did they keep them, they worked, and they looked new despite their age. We don’t keep things anymore. We throw things away. “It’s time for a new one,” we tell ourselves. “Let’s get rid of that old thing.”

Maybe it’s a statement of our society, our culture. Out with the old and in with the new. It looks like progress when everything you own is shiny and bright. “This doesn’t feel new,” we think. “Why keep it?” Our grandparents saw the value in old things. The fact that those things were old made them even more valuable.

Little things, too. Like the manual for the old film camera, still in its bag. The can crusher bolted on the garage wall. There are newer, faster models, you tell him. “This one still works,” grandpa says. The rake that has most of its tines missing, but it has done the job for a long time and it has a few more yards to clean.

Grandparents like to keep trinkets, too. Funky-looking salt and pepper shakers. Figurines that have lost a lot of their original hues. They know that if they keep these insignificant things, they will hold on to something with much more significance.

Memories. Relationships. Good moments. Bad ones, too. Keeping a hold of something that doesn’t work for today keeps yesterday alive. Grandmothers know this.

I’m one of those who don’t keep anything, but I appreciate those who do. Everything we have is in “the cloud.” It’s somewhere but not anywhere. You can access it, but it’s not in your face. Others can’t see it and stumble upon it.

I wish I had held on to the broken things. The wrinkled pictures. The cracked mugs. I should have kept the baking dish that’s rusted around the edges. The Tupperware pitcher that served more than freshly squeezed orange juice.

It’s okay to hang on to the past, especially when hanging on to something becomes important to someone from the future.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at abevillarreal@hotmail.com.