Downsized – a short story

She sat among her treasures…her memories of a life well lived. Family told her it was junk and that she needed to “down-size,” that she needed to organize. But she knew what they meant. “Down-size” was code for “get rid of.” She was expected to eliminate…to throw it away.

She knew they were probably right. At least it looked like junk to everyone else. But at a time in her life when it felt like everything else was being taken away, her job, her independence, her self-worth, even her dignity, how could she simply dismiss all the memories held within her collection…her “junk.”

Why did she need to be part of the down-sizing process anyway? What was the urgency? When she was gone, they’d probably go through the place with a bulldozer and get rid of it. This way was cruel and painful. How could she decide what memory was worth keeping and what memory easily tossed aside?

She turned her attention to the china cabinet. First the wedding china: she would pass that down to her children and hope they would treasure it. She paused to pick up the silver baby spoon that she thought belonged to her grandmother, though she couldn’t be sure. Still, it should be kept. It had value…at least to her. She hoped it would to someone else.

The old teacups that her great aunt had given each grandchild and great niece and nephew were dusty, but still without a blemish. She turned over one cup and saw her granddaughter’s name printed neatly on the bottom. She couldn’t remember if she had written that or if someone else had, but it needed to be passed to its rightful owner, as did the others as well.

She came across the set of frosted glasses imprinted with carousel animals, and remembered using them as a child. Surely they must have some monetary value, even if no one else cared if they were tossed aside after she was gone.

She thought how strange it was to get old. She always knew there was a generation gap, but never in history did there seem to be quite such a generation divide. In her day, people passed things down, from generation to generation. They treasured family heirlooms and saw them as family history. Her generation would never have dreamed of selling grandmother’s wedding dress. Now, to this new generation, it was junk, something that took up room. It was all about shiny and new. Nobody dreamed of wearing their grandmother’s wedding dress. It just wasn’t done anymore.

This new generation talked of recycling as if it was a revolutionary concept. Her generation recycled as a way of life, only they didn’t brag about it and wear it like a badge. They just did it.

Women reused feed bags and seed bags as fabric, and would make clothes or blankets from them. They recycled their glass bottles for cash, or used them for other household purposes. When something broke, they fixed it. Or if it couldn’t be fixed, they took it apart and used it for parts to fix the next thing that broke.

She found it odd that now people went to estate sales to buy “antiques” and things that their grandparents probably would have been happy to pass down…for free.

When the china cabinet was nearly empty, and her arms were tired, and sweat dripped from her brow, she sat back and looked at the emptiness. Even the cabinet itself was a memory. It was part of the dining room set that she and her husband bought for their first house. It was the first room they could afford to furnish. Everyone said they were crazy for not furnishing the living room first, that it made more sense than to get the dining room set up first. But she was pregnant with their second child and wanted more than anything to be able to sit around the family dinner table and share a meal. She also wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner, so it made perfect sense to her.

She opened up the cabinet, and with a black marker, wrote her daughter’s name on the inside of the door. But it wasn’t enough. She continued: I hope you hold on to this memory. But if you by chance get rid of it, I hope the next owner will treasure the value that this holds.

She wanted to write more, but there wasn’t enough room. She hoped that got her point across.

She closed the cabinet door, and traced the delicate trim with her finger.

The doorbell rang and startled her. Then she remembered her daughter mentioned she was going to try to come by to help her if she could squeeze in the time. She braced herself on the chair and slowly made her way to the door.

“Hi, Grandma. I brought a helper,” Lexi motioned to her friend standing beside her.

“Oh, I was expecting your Mom.”

“I asked if I could come. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, no…it’s always good to see you,” she kissed Lexi on the cheek. “I’m just surprised that you’d want to do this sort of thing.”

“Oh, I love looking through old treasures. Usually I have to go to estate sales, but this will be so much more fun. I mean, you can tell me all about your things and old photos and stuff. I’ve never really had a chance to sit with you and find out much about all your antiques.”

She didn’t know what to say.

“Grandma, you okay?”

“Yes, yes…I’m fine, dear. I guess I never realized we hadn’t ever talked about your, uh, heritage.”

“I know. I brought a notebook and my camera so I could document everything too. I want to be sure that I have the story behind everything, so I can tell my kids all about it…when I finally have kids.”

Lexi watched her Grandmother wipe a tear from her eye.

“Grandma, oh, I’m sorry. I’ve upset you. I, uh…” she stuttered.

“No, no. You’ve made an old lady very happy,” she reached for her granddaughter’s hand. “You’re a real gift, and more precious than any of these dusty antiques.” Then she reached out to her friend’s hand, “And you are too.”

The girls didn’t really understand, but they smiled and helped her back to a chair.

“Oh, I see you’ve done most of the packing already.” She looked disappointed.

“I didn’t do a very good job. Maybe you could help me organize it a little better. Here, start with this one,” and she handed a tissue-wrapped teacup to Lexi. She carefully unwrapped it from the tissue.

“Look at the bottom,” her grandma said.

“It has my name on it. This is mine?” she smiled.

“Yes. And there’s more…much more.”

They began taking pieces back out of the box, and the girls took notes while she told them things that she hadn’t talked about for a really long time. Maybe being down-sized wouldn’t be so bad after all.

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