That pile in the basement …

Longed-for warmer temperatures have graced us this past week, eliciting the usual assortment of cliched remarks about the flora and fauna (crocus, daffodil, spring beauty, snowdrops, forsythia, redbud, chipmunks, baby rabbits, robins, wrens).

I undertake my version of spring cleaning: open the windows and let the breeze amass the swirling dog fur and dust bunnies into one massive fluff ball in a corner; hook up vacuum and suck up mass. I tidy and I rearrange; I sort my books and I file my papers. I stop and drink coffee and browse thru’ the Sunday paper.

In the March 20th New York Times “Museums” section, I stumbled upon Golden Age of Discovery … Down in the Basements by David Wallis. Who knew?, but some of our capital-C, Capital-I Cultural Institutions share my lowercase-d, lowercase-g domestic goddesses struggle of staying on top of STUFF.

Of course, what they discover when they go to their basement archives includes Picasso sculptures, rare war helmets of indigenous peoples, and notes from Famous People of History. I find adolescent journals, my grandmother’s account books and timesheets tracking my hours on a federally-funded redevelopment project.

ledger enlargedI’ve tossed the timesheets, but my Grandmother’s account books, with their tidy columns and itemized rows of expenses: they tell me a lot more than she ever chose to share, or I ever know to ask, about her daily life. She, too, struggled with the tension inherent in running a household and creative work. There are entries for groceries, laundry, coal, magazines, stamps. Charmingly, under “miscellaneous” there is, twice-monthly, 35 cents for roses; every three weeks or so is one dollar for “H’s candy” — her husband must have harbored a sweet tooth. There are no entries for weaving supplies though the outstanding feature of her house, when I was a child, was two huge looms. She traveled with a smaller table-top loom. She wove placemats, table runners, samplers, towels, decorative coasters, scrabble tile bags, chair coverings, bookmarks, napkins. You name it, she wove it.

I still use, daily, one of her woven bookmarks. I have always enjoyed it, and find it elegant. No polyester junk, but for-real, finely-patterened silk and linen threads. Having seen her careful accounting for the very real expenses of her daily life on this spring day, and the lack of any such entry for her artistic life, the bookmark becomes dearer.

Some of Gram's weaving

Some of Gram’s weaving

The work we do for love, the work we are privileged to do above and beyond the grunt work of daily necessity: that beauty lasts, to be held and felt and loved. On a breezy spring day, in a basement crowded with life’s leavings.

Let’s look for the treasures in our archives basements. Find whatever we’ve forgotten, whatever scraps of paper and memory may unexpectedly reconnect us, remind us, restore us, return us: to ourselves.

5 responses to “That pile in the basement …

  1. Oh Lesley, this is lovely. My grandfather used to keep an almanac, and on its pages I am sure I would learn more about his life than in the stories he told or in the more “meaningful” artifacts he might have left behind. It’s in that daily mundaneness that we live the majority of our lives, not just in those rare moments that spawn special stories. I love that you found these things of your Gram’s and that they are creating moments for reflection as we all prepare to move forward into the new and fresh spring.

    • Lesley Howard

      Thanks, Andrea 🙂 Your regular posting about “little” moments in your own life is Big Inspiration for me.

  2. This really made my heart beat a little faster…! I love this; there is so much truth in what you express as what comprises real treasures, and there is so much beauty in that bookmark! What a treasure. That is something I have thought a lot about lately, as well; my grandmother loved to sew and make quilts, my father loved to fish, my mother loved to dance…I don’t do any of these exact things but I have my own pursuits that I love and that enrich my life. What they, perhaps unwittingly, bequeathed to us is that memory of simple joys.

    • Lesley Howard

      Thank you; I agree re: our parents gifts of realizing their own simple joys; what I didn’t get into this post (maybe in another one, later) is that for those of us for whom nurturing others *is* our creative act — even if there’s not a tangible “bookmark” of that creative work, it is there in a person’s belly laugh, or witty remark or whatever. Or, as one wise school principal said: “Children are the letters we send to the future.”

  3. Lovely, thanks for embuing the grace, beauty, and spirit into the going through of our basement things…..

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