My parents grew up in the Great Depression, when every cent saved went to survive another day.
Their upbringings were difficult financially, and they both learned early on how to make ends meet. My dad was 10 years older than my mom. After World War II ended, he decided to start his own family and asked my mom to marry him after their third date.
Family was important to my father, and he saw it as his responsibility to take care of my mother and their children. He worked long, hard hours on the road as a salesman, and he could turn whisky into wine with just about anything he sold.
My mother was his queen, and his goal was to make her happy. Since they grew up from humble beginnings, he wanted her to have anything she needed. But she was also a saver and only would buy those things she felt she needed.
They spent 50 happy years together until her untimely passing, when he was left to go on alone. His beloved queen left him far too soon. All the mementos that they had collected over the years from their many trips and celebrations meant nothing to him any longer. They were merely possessions, meaningless without her to share them with.
Several years later, we sold the house we grew up in, and Dad moved into a senior housing complex. He wanted nothing to take with him. No knickknacks, no accessories. Just the necessities – a few pictures and clothing – because he realized that all that stuff meant nothing without his wife.
Now that he is in his mid-90s, with limited mobility and failing memory, he has downsized to a room with a bed, TV and dresser, with basic meals to sustain his life. It is more than sad to visit with him every day and to witness what his life has been reduced to.
Seeing my father’s situation has also made me take a huge step back and take note of all the possessions I have accumulated over the years. It was fun to collect them and admire them, but I now realize that having them means nothing if there is no one to share them with.
What do we do with all this stuff when we have to move from our houses into an apartment, a smaller home or a nursing home? It all becomes things that we don’t know what to do with. The objects become burdens for our children to dispose of.
We sell them, we hand them down, and we donate them.
It is not things that make our lives worth living. Life experiences, sharing ourselves with others and making each day count are the most important things – they make real memories.
My father was and always will be a scraper and a survivor, and he has handed down those traits to his family. He has shown me, without saying one word, that stuff means nothing without having memories of family and friends to share your life with.
My dad has little to do now except read a few magazines a day, watch TV and peruse the newspaper, but there is one thing that he still has – his fondest memories of his lovely wife, whom he lost so long ago. He has a treasure chest full of wonderful stories that he can dream about every day.
I am grateful that he still has those memories, and I only hope he can hold on to them a little longer.
The things that change our lives often come when we are not looking for them. It could be a book we read; it could be a sermon we heard, or it could be the confidence expressed in us by a parent, teacher or mentor. We would like to hear from Western New York women about the defining influences on their lives for Women’s Voices. Send your essay (up to 700 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, email and daytime phone number. Submissions must be by email and cannot be promotional in nature or anonymous.