Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 16, 2006, Herald Journal

Green couch, pink china, and white elephants


Mothers are funny.

They are funny in many ways, but I am referring to the way they pass things down to their children.

The subject came up last Saturday while a friend and I were relaxing over our morning coffee.

We were talking about de-cluttering, which is something I have been working on fairly aggressively lately.

I am amazed at the way things have accumulated around the old domicile over the last couple of decades.

I am pretty sure that some of these things crept surreptitiously into my closets without my knowledge.

There are other items that may have had a good reason to be there at one time, but now they are surplus to requirements, and as I weed through my possessions, I can’t help wondering why I ever kept some of them.

There is one particular category of item, though, that has an origin of a much more sinister nature.

These things came from my mother.

As my friend and I talked, it became clear that she had her own share of maternal baggage, and we began to wonder if this is a universal motherly kind of thing to do, this foisting of worldly goods on their children, whether they want them or not.

They inflict these gifts on us, and then ensure that we will keep them by applying a modicum of guilt in a way only mothers can do.

Now, before I am accused of coming out against mothers, I should make it clear that I am sure that they have only the best of intentions when they do these things. I only suggest that there may be some flaw in their makeup that robs them of the ability to distinguish what we need, or why we need it.

Naturally, we appreciate the things we are given, but the fact is, our taste and that of our mothers, may not be the same (I certainly hope this is true). No matter how precious an item is, it may not fit our style.

And furthermore, these are things our mothers have decided that they don’t want in their houses anymore, so why do they assume we will want them in ours?

I can testify to the fact that I heard my own mother say, on more than one occasion, “Well, somebody needs to have this,” implying that that somebody obviously had to be me.

Whether I needed or had space for the item was not a consideration.

My friend’s experience was similar.

She said that when she was first out on her own, she took whatever her mother wanted to unload on her without complaint.

The green couch was the turning point.

My friend had taken possession of a vintage green couch that had been in the family since she was young.

The couch was 30 years old if it was a day, and, while it was still in good shape for its age, it had the drawback of being constructed with cast-iron springs which made it no joy to move.

My friend, upon leaving a second floor apartment, decided that the prospect of moving this behemoth again did not appeal to her, and she was not going to take it with her. She hove it off the balcony, and it landed with a terrific thud next to the dumpster.

Her mother arrived later, and upon observing the couch in this position, took exception to the plan, and in fact, became quite agitated.

This eventually led to a mother- daughter discussion, the result of which was that my friend is now allowed to dispose of things her mother has given her, as long as her mother does not find out about it.

One of the glaring examples in my own house is the pink china.

The china has lived in the bottom of a cabinet for several years without seeing the light of day.

I dodged this particular white elephant for some time, but my mother was determined, and it came home with me when she moved from her last house to an apartment.

I am not sure why she was so insistent on my having it.

It is not particularly attractive. It has no sentimental connection, since it was never deployed in any house that I lived in while I was growing up.

I suspect that her motivation was that she had given other sets of china to my siblings, pieces that I might have actually recognized, so I suppose she felt she had to give me a set, too.

And that is the hook. There are things that we keep that defy logic.

The pink china has no intrinsic value, but the fact that my mother worked so hard to be sure I would take it, has been enough to keep it in my possession all these years.

My sister says that if a thing is not beautiful or useful, we should get rid of it.

Intellectually, that makes perfect sense, but sometimes, it is not that simple.

I suppose I will either have to get rid of the pink china or haul it out and start using it. That wouldn’t make it beautiful, but at least it would make it useful.

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