Friday, November 18, 2011

Hanging on: Jan. 25, 2004

When I wrote this column in 2004, my mother had a 15-year-old car. We finally convinced her to get rid of it and buy a used Camry. And now that car is 15 years old, and my mother swears she will never part with it.

When you get right down to it, nothing really ever changes.

It’s sometimes so hard for us to let go that we never do
    My mother’s car has turned 15. It’s now old enough to get a permit and learn to drive itself.

    "I love my car," she protests when I suggest it might be time for another one. "It’s such a good little car."     

    Mom’s car is a blue Subaru sedan manufactured long before the whole "sport wagon" phenomenon made Subarus almost cool. It’s pushing 250,000 miles, and the engine sounds like a sewing machine with a sinus infection. The back seat has been peed on by an angry cat; the side is dented from a parking lot mishap; the trunk release doesn’t work, and one of the back doors won’t open from the inside.

    My dad smushed the front end of the little car a few years ago after he chugged over a blind hill to find traffic at a dead stop.

    "That’ll be the end of that car," I told my husband. "Who would fix a car that old?"

    My mother would.

    She had the little car towed to Cleveland where a man with a cluttered auto shop in his back yard rebuilt the front end for a very reasonable price.

    "You’re crazy," I told her. "Just buy a used Camry or something."

    "But I love my car," she said. "It’s such a good little car."

    I shouldn’t make fun. My truck is 10, and I have absolutely no intention of parting with it. Ever. It’s such a great truck. My station wagon is 8, and I plan to give it to my son when he is old enough to drive — 13 years from now.

    Some of this behavior is motivated by tight budgets, but the plain truth is we just get attached to things, my mom and me. We get attached, and we don’t get over it.

    That makes us a good bet as spouses, but it also means I have two wool sweaters in my dresser that Mom bought in 1963 before she went off to college. She gave them to me when I was in middle school. One is gray; one is green, and I still wear them.

    Also, hanging in my son’s room is a poster my husband made in fourth grade featuring a baseball player holding a bat, swinging toward a list of ways to "strike out cavities."

    "Don’t eat lots of sweets," the crooked black lettering exhorts readers. "See your dentist twice a year."

    My husband will be 47 next month. That poster has been around since he was 9. I have a vivid mental picture of him as a little boy, skinny and curlyheaded like our son, bent over a desk with markers, paint and posterboard. My mother-in-law gave me the poster, along with a stack of other items she saved from Jim’s boyhood. If there is a gene for saving things, our son will inherit several generations’ worth of it.

    There is this trend on cable television, these shows where professional organizers (whatever that is) take cluttered houses and transform them into "neat and functional spaces." (Blech.)     

    I watched aghast recently as one of these mean organizer guys browbeat a man into selling the last painting his mother had done before she died. It went into the yard sale pile and ultimately netted the homeowner $10.

    My husband wandered into the living room to find me sputtering with rage.

    "That guy just sold his dead mother’s art for $10!" I shrieked. "She painted that picture while she was dying of cancer, and he sold it at a yard sale for $10!"

    My husband shook his head. "That’s awful," he said, gazing in disbelief at the television, which is an ancient, ugly thing with fake wood grain paneling that my grandfather owned before he died.

    The screen is scratched in a couple of places, but you can hardly tell if you watch from the right angle.

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