Wednesday, December 30, 2009

French Roast, Salvaged Butter Bowls and The Pruning of a Magnolia

At this time of year I am doing something physically that many or most people do mentality and emotionally, I am taking inventory of my life. Without drowning you in the mire of financial manners, I am about to shrink a 1900 square foot house into about a 650 square foot apartment. As you can imagine, it is an enormous task. In doing so I am deciding, without a lot of melodrama, what parts of my past I can keep with me and what I must discard. I look through this house and see 21 years of love and work from the beautiful red lamps in the living room, to the gorgeous pictures on the wall that we picked out together so carefully, to each piece of furniture we chose and placed with love. I have to decide what I will take, what I will sell and what I will discard to the trash heap when the charities have had their fill.

I was in my kitchen this morning making the French Roast that gives me the strength to begin the day. I love my coffee and it loves me. When I pulled my coffee canister from the cabinet and the paper filter I must use, I thought about what is acceptable to me to begin my day. I buy really good coffee because it is the one indulgence that I allow myself. I can smoke a cheaper brand of smokes, eat store brand oatmeal and use whatever brand of sandwich bread that might be on sale. However, if Starbucks French Roast coffee were 20 bucks a pound, it will always be in my home. I will not deprive myself of that one thing.

As I stood in my kitchen awaiting the exlir of life to brew, I decided that I would unload and load the dishwasher because I had 15 minutes to spare. In my precaffiene stupor, I opened the wrong cabinet and was staring my "good things" in the face. My husband's paternal grandmothers china in "Platinum Ring," three really nice Ralph Lauren serving pieces I saved for and bought myself, assorted crystal and other finery that we generally save for important occasions. I looked at the things in my hands as I staggered to put the daily menagerie of mismatched things away and I began to think, "Lord God, I have to have a yard sale." I started to make a mental inventory of what I must take, my Kitchenaid Stand Mixer that Rich and my mother in law got up at 4am on Black Friday to make sure Santa delivered for Christmas of 2006, my beloved Cuisinart coffee maker that was exactly what I longed for Christmas of 2005, the stainless steel spice rack that was searched for like Waldo in a book long before they were in vogue. It is an inventory of memories of things bought for me or given to me, brand new or antique and things that I saved and coveted until I brought them home. It was then that it struck me, "What am I waiting for?"

How do we determine who eats off "the good china" and who gets the mismatched corelle? Does it have to be a holiday for our families to deserve our best? Why is it that someone's boss, your pastor or stranger who comes to talk about children or the community watch rates the good stuff and someone we love can eat their fruit loops out of a salvaged butter bowl and we think it's fantastic? If someone comes to my home and I break out a bottle of wine, the glasses must match and be beautiful, yet I can sit in the bathtub drinking it out of a mason jar? What makes me less than them? What makes the people we love less than a guest in our homes? Yet we would stand in the street and swear that there is no one more important in the world than our families and those we cohabitate with daily. We will however, stand in the house at 3am, yelling at the top of our lungs "I don't give a damn what you thought when you got your milk, but if you break that glass, I will break your arm!" and in the bright light of day never say we are sorry. But a stranger can drop the same glass on the ceramic tile floor shattering both and we pull out our best manners to inform them that everything is fine? We give our mismatched emotions, cast off remarks and salvaged time rather than the best we have to offer within us to the people we love the most? Just who is it that we are waiting to give our best to that is more important than them?

It was at that moment that I decided that I will take the best of everything from my home to the new apartment. I will use the china and the crystal. I built this collection with my heart and it is my heart I need to take with me. I will sip Diet Coke from rock crystal tumblers with platinum rings. If you come to my home, you will get your coffee out of the mug off the mug tree instead of something I got for free. Because no stranger is more important than the people that I love. I will make an effort to say "Please" and "Excuse me" to my familiars. My sainted grandmother used to say that good manners are more important with the people love than with strangers. Common human kindness and courtesy go further with your mate, your children, your in-laws and your friends than they ever will with strangers. The stranger will forget you in a moment, but the "Thank you's" and "I'm Sorry's" will echo in your family and friends hearts for a lifetime. "Love means never having to say I'm sorry?" I call bullshit. "I was wrong" should be easier to taste in my mouth when it is seasoned with love.

So as I inventory and pack up my life in the coming weeks, I will take my best of my things with me. I am also taking stock of what is the best of me. I will use them with joy and try to package them in humility that is befitting my station in life. I will give away the mismatched pieces and offhanded disregard that I show the people I love. In the end, I will come out a better person. I have no illusions, this is going to hurt and hurt bad all the way around. In the south we learn that to produce the famous Magnolia you must cut the branches back to the trunk for it to reach its most beautiful and majestic heights. To keep it from spreading and dying from the outside in, it must be pruned in winter for it to survive without horrible scars and disfigurement. In this wintery season of my life, it is best that the cuts be deep but sure so that I can reach toward the sky in the coming spring season. But, I will be better for them and I will be better to me. When the people from my old life look at me and think "How sad, she is so much less than she used to be" they will be wrong. When you come looking for me, I may be unrecognizable to the uneducated while these cold winds blow. But, I'll be the one in the bathtub with the expensive wineglass and the cheap wine. Come Spring, the Real Deal Steel Magnolia will bloom again.


  1. Your words were a balm to my heart and soul. I was bemoaning the reality that I have to get rid of all the stuff from my old life that is now crammed into a 10x20 storage shed. I just can't afford the rental fee anymore.

    You put a different spin on how I was viewing my situation and for that I am very grateful. Why should my grandmother's good china be in storage and why is my little family eating off the crappy stuff? If I want to keep the china but can't store it who says I can't use it everyday?

    Everything you said about taking an inner inventory of yourself along with your belongings was amazing and it really hits home with it being the new year. We always resolve to become better and I like how your perspective recognizes all the good in you
    that is already there.

    I saw that poor, pruned, cut and scarred Magnolia so perfectly in my mind. What a description and what a turnaround come Spring!

    Thanks for your sassy, strong, humorous, inspiring and very insightful words. You gave me a lot to think about.

  2. This is a great post! Make sure you treat YOURSELF with as much grace and respect you bestow on others. <3

  3. I'm here via Twitter, a bit like a stranger who has stumbled into someone's home and ends up staying for a moment (to join you for coffee? my big vice/indulgence as well---I actually have to mail order it from a little shop I used to visit).

    You have definitely hit a nerve with me. I think it is so easy to be cruel to those closest to us b/c we know (or think) that they'll always be there. I love your writing, am so sorry for your loss(es) and agree life is much too short to drink wine from mason jars.