Dan Goldes: Artifacts

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Things are just things, but they’re also artifacts that tell the story a life. Dan Goldes has this Perspective.

My 90‐year‐old mother died recently, and my two brothers and I spent a few days cleaning out her house in Santa Rosa. As we sorted through the drawers, cabinets, and boxes, we spent time laughing, crying a little, and ribbing her in absentia for all the things she saved: receipts from long‐ago purchases, paintings my younger brother and I made in grade school, books she’d read decades before. Why, I thought, does someone save all this stuff?

Then I realized that what we were looking at were artifacts. My mother was born into the Depression and was divorced with a young son by the early 1950s. She made her way to a new life in California, married again, had two more sons, divorced a second time, and spent the next 40 years discovering her path. That path wasn’t always easy for a 50‐something woman who had spent 20 years raising kids.

As I looked at the boxes of stuff we were giving to friends, donating to charity, or, sometimes, throwing away, I realized that each item was a part of who my mom was.

Those receipts? Evidence that after her second divorce she had earned her own money, built credit in her own name, and could buy what she needed and wanted. Those grade‐school paintings? Early signs that all three of her sons would be involved in the arts. The books? Grand adventures she could think back on as her physical world became smaller.

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Each of these things was a touchstone: to small triumphs as she made her way as an independent woman, and to larger accomplishments as she defined her life for herself. Each item said, “I was here.” They were reminders that a life is built not only in grand achievements but day by day, piece by piece.

And so while my first thought was to wonder why my mother saved “all that stuff,” I’m now thankful for it, and, as I sorted through it, to her for helping me begin the process of moving forward without her in body, but very much in spirit.

With a Perspective, I’m Dan Goldes.

Dan Goldes is a non-profit consultant and documentary filmmaker in San Francisco.