The Memory of Stuff

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Mac Clayton invests personal stuff with memory, and it’s never more stubborn than when its connected to your children.

Remember setting up house? Pots and pans. One pan, anyway. A dish or two. Coffee pot. A decent knife. Laundry basket, or maybe not, maybe just a corner of the closet. You were busy and free. You weren’t worried about all that stuff.

But it piled up, and then you moved in with someone else and his or her stuff and pretty soon you needed more room not just for the stuff but for the baby that was on the way, a prospect both exhilarating and terrifying.

That baby did it. Before her, stuff was just stuff. Now it became the cradle, an ornate antique with lace linens, in imagination if not reality. The flowered wallpaper. The changing table. The rocking chair. The toy box. The soccer goal. The study desk and lamp. The stereo. The couch with popcorn between the cushions. The television with fingerprints on the screen. And finally, the duffel bag for college.

You keep her bedroom like a silent migratory marsh pond. When her visits become less frequent, you begin saving things you think she would like for her new apartment. A set of plates she always loved. The pots you cooked all her meals in. The lamp she read by. Your attic becomes a shrine to both her past and her future.


But she never comes for her old things. She sets up her own house and finds her own mate and has her own kids. You begin to save her childhood toys for your grandchildren. Your attic is getting crowded.

And now here you are with all that stuff, which is not stuff to you but the memoir of your life. Long after you know it won’t be needed, not even by you, you keep it, knowing without admitting it that one day you will be gone and those bits of your life will remain, knitted together like the gray twigs of an old robin’s nest, still sturdy and serviceable, but abandoned.

With a Perspective, I’m Mac Clayton.

Mac Clayton is an author. He lives on the Peninsula.