Last fall I read the bestselling book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It came recommended to me by a good friend, and I read it with a growing feeling of what can best be described as relief. My small house is perpetually cluttered; nothing ever seems to change that. But Kondo’s unique strategy of assessing and discarding actually made me think that perhaps, just perhaps, I would be able to get rid of things I thought I’d keep forever. She is what some might call ruthless in her approach, but there are times when I think I need that.
But this Christmas, I realized anew that there is something to be said for being a packrat.
On Christmas morning I opened a large square package from my parents, only to find this box.
When I opened it, I was surprised and delighted to discover that it was full of cards and drawings that I had given my Grandma and Grandpa Kubitz over the years. My grandmother had saved them all, in a huge envelope with my name on it, and I had no idea this collection even existed.
Inside the box were cards I’d made for my grandparents, for birthdays and Mother’s Day and anniversaries. There were pictures I’d drawn — some nothing more than crayon squiggles, with my grandmother’s careful date (“Ginny — 1975″) in the corner. There were all sorts of photographs with white borders, the kind you don’t see anymore, of different occasions involving me, at a variety of ages: newborn to kid with bangs to awkward teenager. Many of them are snapshots I’d never seen before, photos my grandparents took and are thus different from the ones in my mom’s albums.
They were all there, in the treasure trove, saved by my grandmother. She died in 1989; my grandfather a few years later. According to my parents, the bulging envelope of Ginny memorabilia, compiled carefully over time by Grandma (there was one for my sister as well), ended up in my aunt’s house in a box of things she’d packed up after we sold my grandparents’ house twenty years ago. She recently rediscovered the envelope, gave it to my parents, and they passed it on to me.
It’s hard to put into words what this gift means to me. I still haven’t gone through everything, but the things I have seen have made me smile, get teary-eyed, and even laugh. (Take, for example, the “potholder” I made of two pieces of fabric. Just to make sure my grandma would be safe, I included a warning note.)
There was also this darling little picture of a May basket, with a verse on the back. (I think it’s obvious why poetry is not my genre of choice.)
The homemade cards are precious in the way that kids’ cards always are; no wonder my grandmother tucked each one away to keep forever. My pictures are awkward, my handwriting messy, but I remember the way Grandma and Grandpa would exclaim over each one; an original Monet could not have pleased them more. I always felt so loved by my grandparents, knowing that I was cherished by them. And now, as a forty-two year-old woman and mom, who last saw her grandmother at the age of sixteen and her grandfather at the age of nineteen, I am so humbly grateful for the childhood memories. It is an amazing thing to be able to open a box of your past, to see before you the witness of two people whose love for you rendered everything you gave them precious and worthy of keeping.
Did Grandma intend to give these all back to me, someday? Did she keep them for herself, or for me? I’m not sure. But either way, this collection of crayon and Pentel drawings and homemade cards and 1970s photos is a witness to the power of keeping things, even at the risk of being a packrat. It’s a testament to the fact that even though you last saw them a quarter-century ago, the people we loved as children never really leave us.
And it’s also a reminder that the gifts we create for others can sometimes come back to us, in ways we never expected.