Saturday, May 4, 2013

Yesterday in Thomaston

Yesterday, I fulfilled an obligation to my folks that I made a year or so ago involving cleaning out a storage facility that they have rented in my hometown of Thomaston, Georgia.  It is the repository for the final remnants of what was in my grandmother's house along with some furniture and odd pots and pans (from my grandmother's storage facility) and some old stuff of theirs that was just sitting in there.  I estimated that they have spent over $13,000 keeping this storage facility over the past thirty some odd years that currently houses items that are collectively valued at approximately $500 if you're being generous.

I know that when someone passes on, we are afraid to part with items that we don't know the value or history or...or that were lovingly kept for a lifetime in a box to be pulled out and viewed at a later date. Sometimes people pull something valuable out of an attic or basement and become instant millionaires.  But this stuff?  No.  It had already been sorted once and deemed "too good to throw away" or "we don't have time to sort it right now so we'll wait."  Of course, one doesn't want to callously toss letters that a person kept, or the dress that someone wore their senior year of college in 1927.  But then again, there comes a time when that just has to be done...even if it isn't easy.

My grandmother was a college student and then a young bride during the Great Depression.  I grew up hearing stories about how she had three dresses that doubled to six because a friend and she were the same size.  They would trade out for various dates with young men, and she just made do instead of troubling her parents for more than she knew they could offer her comfortably.  As a result of surviving those lean years of American history, she - like many of her generation - kept everything.  And when I mean "everything" - I mean old Kool Whip containers, televisions that no longer worked (because the wood cabinets were still good), patterns for clothes that nobody wanted to make or had been taught to make, and tin foil.  I remember as a young girl thinking that tin foil was always wrinkled...instead of smooth...because she would reuse it instead of throwing it away if it was clean.  (And I also know that it will eventually disintegrate...and when it does, it was okay to throw it away without asking.)

Looking through boxes of old books that came from family members long deceased, 45 records that we have no means of playing now because none of us owns a turntable, and a box of lightweight aluminum pans for cooking were sorted through using a powerful flashlight as quickly as possible.  Thirty minutes into the sorting process...we realized that there was no way that we could accomplish all that we needed to without a box of black garbage bags and more we got out what we could...filled up the truck with the big pieces...and left the boxes for another day.

But being there going through the remnants of a life well lived, I could only think about how different it might have been.

Sometime in the 1980s, Big Dave and I took a trip to Thomaston with the express purpose of cleaning out the garage.  We were dressed in old clothes and we were there to honor Gammy's request to help her get the garage in order so that she could unload the storage facility she had and look through what she has put there in the 1960s.  This was a different one than my folks took out in the 1980s and after her death they consolidated what was left of her things into theirs.  But back to the we stood there throwing away a cardboard box that a television had come in that had long been troubled with water damage, we got about five bags filled before her anxiety was so high that she told us to stop.  She was afraid that we were throwing away valuable things that only she could approve or deny.  The truth was...we were only throwing away things that were too water damaged, soiled, or clearly beyond hope to ever be of any value to anyone.  It didn't change her perception, though.

So, we got what we could to the street, and then we went upstairs and visited with her for awhile...our purpose for being there pretty much thwarted.  When I mean anxiety...I mean something almost akin to terror.  It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen.  But then again, if you knew my grandmother and her ability to take charge of a situation...perhaps maybe not so much.

Fast forward twenty five years...and we were all standing in her house after she passed trying to decide who was to take what where and when.  And sometimes it wasn't pretty...although everyone is still speaking and trying not to think about it all too much.  Which, I suppose, somewhat rocks.

So, yesterday, we stood in the room with the last of it.  The letters from her parents to her while she was at Wesleyan.  The lap desk that she used to write letters sitting on the couch watching her beloved Braves before her eyesight failed on her and frustrated her more than falling three times and breaking various leg and hip bones ever could.

And it was a little bit bittersweet...I'm not going to lie to you.

On the other hand, Big Dave's parents turned 70, and decided that they wanted the kids to come get what they wanted.  And so we did...long before my mother-in-law died...because they weren't attached to things.  They were, and my father-in-law still is...incredibly attached to people.  Family, friends, people that they met the week before.  And although my sweet sister-in-laws had to finish up the cleaning out was done in two weekends...instead of over a four year time period that is actually more of an eleven year time period if you count the storage facility.


The older I get, the more I realize the futility of keeping so many things.  So many reminders that I lived a good life that I'll never be able to take with me...and that my children will have to deal with someday.  Will they know that the striped blanket that is on the edge of the couch was purchased in Cabos San Lucas in 2006 when Big Dave and I went on a trip with his company?  Will they care about the histories of the various family pieces that I possess?  I have no idea.

So, I'm going to be combing through what is here and hoping that I can pass these gems along with the stories as soon as they set up their homes.  For my oldest one...that will hopefully be in a few weeks when she purchases her first home.  For my younger one, it will be a few years...but since he's really the more sentimental of the two...I know in my heart that he'll be a good steward of some of these items that mean so much to me when that time comes.

Being back in Thomaston yesterday gave me the opportunity to eat at Piggie Park...a ritual that my family followed at least once a week from the time I was eight until I left at age 18.  We used to take old towels out with us to catch the crumbs and Mom and I laughed about that memory while we were sitting there in the rented brand spanking new truck hoping we wouldn't christen it with some barbecue sauce, ketchup, or a spilled Coke (an occurrence that was far more likely when Linda was little).  I told them that the food tasted the same but that Charlie wasn't bringing it to that was different.  Mom said he ran himself to death and stayed skinny providing for the seven children that he had.  We talked about going out to the Norris' "Steak 'n Stuff" restaurant every Friday night...where the highlight of that meal (in my humble opinion) was the lemon meringue pie.  I can still remember watching my sister leave the table and "visit" (and charm) everyone there because she was so stinking cute with her waist length straight blond hair and little barrettes to keep it out of her eyes.

We drove by Big Chic (where I got a lot of my "starter" cellulite and fat cells) and I could almost taste the chicken filet sandwich with mayonnaise, mustard, and extra pickles.  And fries.  Definitely the fries (because that used to comprise a meal at lunch back in the day.)  We were able to stop at Cake House Bakery...the shop opened by my friend Debbie Culverhouse, and got to actually indulge in some of what I'd previously only seen posted on Facebook...and I got to hug her neck for the first time in 32 years.  (And if you are reading this and live in totally need to go by there.  Often.)  Leaving town, we saw the turnoff to River Bend (what my grandmother always joked was "Rubber Band") and I only regretted that we couldn't stop in for dinner.  (Then my friend Tommy posted about being there that night on Facebook...which only made it worse.)

I know that it seems odd to be all tied up with the food of home...but you must understand that it is a great comfort to me to know that the places I loved as a child are still there.  And although our home on Johnston Drive now has new owners and is painted a different color than the yellow that it was painted from the 1960s until it was sold in 2006...I can still go back and have a delicious meal...and remember when.

So, while we were letting go yesterday one more tentative thread of our tie to Thomaston...we were also indulging in that continuous thread that is still there after we are gone from the area...Piggie Park.  I have found a close cousin to it here in Montgomery - Sam's Barbecue...but still.

Also strangely comforting was being fussed at for not calling various parties to let them know that we were in the area...even though it was a very, very short trip.  We're going back soon to eat at the Peachtree Cafe with our precious Johnston Drive neighbors, Billy and Charlene Daniel, because I miss them and want to catch up in person.  Those who say "you can never go home again" are dead wrong. Today, I am very happy about that.

Very happy.


  1. My parents bought a new home right around the time that we had to put Grandma in a home last summer which lessened the stress of having to find a place to put her treasures. I spent some time with her right before the move and scanned in precious photos and documents so we had a computer copy for everyone and a backup for pages that were beginning to fray. She doesn't have any of her old clothing or anything from her mom and I wish we did... I love vintage clothing. Anyways... I moved back in with my parents around that same time and for me, although they're in the same home they've lived in for 37 years (the new home is a vacation/retirement home for them)things have changed too drastically in this area for it to feel like home. I guess for me "home" is the people because that is the only real tie we have to the past. Great post!
    *hugs* heather

  2. Thanks, Heather! I agree with you about the people. But I also loved being with my folks and Big Dave and just enjoying food that was the same. I guess you hold onto what you can. :) I have such wonderful memories of my grandmother...who was a storyteller and a true Steel Magnolia. Except in her was more of a "Steel Gardenia." But her inability to pass things along has caused quite an issue for my Mom who didn't get to enjoy things before they were passed on through her to me. I'm about to start doing my "passing through" of hopefully, our family is back on track. There was a bit of a Berlin Wall to get through, metaphorically speaking, in dealing with my sweet Gammy's things. I wish the clothing had been in better condition. Years of time in a garage and storage facilities ruined them. :( Still...a lot of good stuff remained. :) Thank you for reading and for commenting. Means a lot. :)

  3. Hey Karen, Really enjoyed your blog today. I'm so sorry you didn't get to have dinner at Riverbend. It's about 4 miles from our home and we eat there quite often. Glad you enjoyed your visit here at "HOME". Also glad you enjoyed the memories and saw some old friends. Wish you could have visited the old O.W. Jones building. You probably would have found some treasure you couldn't live without there. It's really neat just around the corner from the bakery.

    1. Thank you so much! I missed River Bend SO much yesterday...but fully plan to come out there some time this summer when it is light longer so that I can drive back to Montgomery after dinner. Best catfish in the world...and I love the slaw. :)

  4. Sitting here crying because I so often want to go home and it all be the same. When I do get to T'ton, I ride by Memaw and Pop's in Silvertown. Sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's funny. Memaw would spin in her grave if she knew about her house and yard. I go by all the houses we called home. I ride down Brookwood and wish the camellias KaKa planted at every house where she lived had been moved to Goshen Rd. so I could have them at my house. (They were pulled out and discarded years ago by a newer homeowner.) On my last trip home (for the Combined 1981 Reunion) I drove down Goshen Rd. for the first time since we sold the house to the home where a piece of my heart died along with my grandmother.

    Just this year I began the hard process of sorting all the heirlooms to determine what to keep and what to give away. Everything was offered to family first. What wasn't taken now graces homes across Bham thanks to a yard sale for my mission trip and Mission Possible thrift stores (I was SO glad I was on vacation and couldn't work the yard sale. It would have been too painful to watch someone walk away with my memories.). MUCH remains to be sorted.

    On the positive side--everything has been photographed and whatever remains in my possession will have it's history noted. That should help my kids decide that the faded cracked teacups from the 1850s immigration from Ireland should be kept in the family while the pretty depression glass dessert plates can be given away.

    Like you, one aspect of trips home that never changes is our choice of dining options. It's good to know that some things don't change.

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Home is home no matter how old we get and how long we've been away.

  5. Bobbi, THAT was beautiful. Thank you for posting!

    During the time that we were going through the packing up and giving away process at my Gammy's house...I kept looking my mother in the eyes and telling her very directly..."Please don't do this to me someday..." and she promised me that she won't. Although I believe that she has many more wonderful years ahead of her...we are very consciously moving things along since she truly "gets" it having been through that whole experience.

    I was so proud of her yesterday. She trusted me enough to accept that I can quickly and decisively go through things and that it is okay to let some things go. She has come so far in the past seven years! I love her dearly...but she has a bit of "packrat-itis" and I have to break that tendency whenever possible.

    She wants things to be easier for us...and I'm grateful. Especially with my sister living in we know who the lion's share would be left in the lap of more likely than not. So, I've spoken out now so that I can just enjoy my folks and not dread all of this at some point in time way down the road.

    And with regard to the teacups? Totally agree. I have a few things like that here as well. :)