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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Parting with the past

Three Fridays ago my trunk and back seat were crammed with glassware, vases, decorations, linens, hangers, still-tagged stuffed animals and other remnants of downsizing. My father, nine months a widower, moved to a smaller apartment, giving up the spare bedroom and the storage space that came with it.
Attempts to cajole Dad into weeding through his stuff before the move fell on deaf ears, literally as well as figuratively, although he may be less hard of hearing than hard-headed. My siblings and I all brought some things to our respective basements. Most of my haul, however, went straight to a local fund-raiser rummage sale.
But even the least sentimental among us are surprised when some things tug too hard on our hearts to give away.
My father, for instance, insisted on finding space in the new apartment for an entertainment center that I was nagging him to give away. "It’s coming with me," he said. "Your mother and I put that together."
It wasn’t the furniture he didn’t want to part with; it was the connection to his wife. Assembling this was a joint effort that I imagine included laughs, squabbling and, finally, satisfaction: Look what we made.
I understand. Among the goods to dispose of from Dad’s place was a twist-tied bag, smaller than a loaf of bread, into which six faded baby nightshirts printed with pastel angels and rattles were neatly folded. They were probably mine.
But that’s not why I couldn’t throw them away. It’s because they epitomize the most unconditional adoration — a mother, my mother, lovingly putting aside a keepsake of her beloved little one.
A couple of years ago, in the process of moving my parents from a house to an apartment, I came across a tiny envelope. My paternal grandmother had saved a curl of my father’s hair and a baby tooth, which at some point came to be my parents’ possession. "Ew," I thought.
I did not keep them, and I confess to feeling a little sad. For I can imagine my grandmother, my Bubbi, placing the fresh-cut baby locks and kernel of a tooth into the labeled envelope, a tender keepsake of fleeting babyhood, motherhood and youth.
Meanwhile, in a bin in the back of my closet is a baby’s sailor suit that my mother-in-law had saved for 30-some years. She gave them to me after my first son was born, and we took a picture of him in it. I can’t get rid of the outfit; she’s been gone 18 years, and that little suit reminds me of her and the too brief a time she had to be a grandmother.
In the bin with the sailor suit are a couple of outfits, hats and thumb-size socks worn by my babies, who are now young men of 22 and 19. Next to their baby clothes there is room for the nightshirts my mother saved some 55 years ago.
Some day, perhaps, I’ll be able to part with the clothes saved by my mother, my mother-in-law and me. In my heart I know that I can have the treasured memories without the objects. But for now, I want the physical goods, too. It’s not baby clothes themselves that are precious, but that they are touched with mothers’ love.


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