Bits and Pieces

Indiana Jones had the Ark of the Covenant. Darth Vader blew up a world in search of the Death Star plans. But all of it quailed in the face of the latest discovery.

Heather and her siblings, at long last, had uncovered G-ma’s Cow Pitcher.

“And now the fight begins,” her sister Jaimee joked, to the laughter of the room.

For the uninitiated, the Cow Pitcher is not a fastball-hurling Guernsey. Had we found that, we would have had an immediate obligation to send it to the Colorado Rockies. (Hey, their rotation can use all the help it can get.) This rather, was the unforgettable cow-shaped milk pitcher of Heather’s Grandma Marilyn – known eternally as “G-ma” – that she frequently wielded over the cereal bowl of each grandchild with a flourish and a call of “MooOOOooo!”

As the playful banter began, Marilyn herself chuckled and smiled. Another memory was about to find a home.

Only 3,207 more to go.

Marilyn, you see, is moving. That’s always a fun exercise to begin with. (As Mark Twain may not have said, “Two moves equal one fire.”) And it gets even more interesting when you’re moving into a smaller, simpler place and need to clear out a lot of stuff – not to an attic, a basement, or a garage, but to a new keeper, if it’s worth keeping at all.

And so, it slowly passed before us all. An endless stream of photo albums and teddy bears. A mysterious case – “is this a sewing machine?” – that turned out to be an old slide projector. Books upon books upon books, from longtime classics to movie novelizations.

It looked like we were in the middle of the world’s most chaotic flea market. But it felt like we were in the midst of gold and diamonds, decades of stories and memories that had taken on a physical form.

Better yet, we still had the best treasure of all.

I’ve written before in this space about the power of stories, how they inspire us, comfort us, bind the universe togeth … no wait, that’s Obi-Wan Kenobi talking about the Force. But you get the idea: stories are an essential part of what makes us human, one of the most precious things we possess.

But there is something more precious than any story.

Namely, the storyteller.

Memories are made of people. Stories begin with them. We walk past libraries every day, live with anthologies, work alongside chapters that we never knew existed. And most of the time, we barely open the cover.

We only realize how little we’ve read until the storyteller is gone. And there’s always so much more to find.

I lost a grandmother at 93 and a cousin at 21. I talked to both of them frequently. And yet, after they were gone, there were still questions I wished I’d asked, stories I wished I’d heard, thoughts I wished we’d exchanged.

That’s one reason we value the “stuff,” I suppose. It evokes the memories long after the memory maker is gone.

But getting to evoke them in her presence – that’s beyond price.

Heather and I wound up with the photo albums, to scan and share. Her brother Brad got to keep the Cow Pitcher – and miraculously, no concussions were involved. All of us wound up with a few books. OK, a lot of books.

And all of us got to keep Marilyn.  That’s as cool as a Cow Pitcher jumping over the moon. Or is that “over the mooOOOoon?”

After all, you’ve got to milk these things.

We Go Together

It didn’t look like much. A fuzzy gray bowling ball, maybe, without holes.

But you wouldn’t want to roll this one. Not the Great Hairball.

I met the Great Hairball in a Garden City museum, in southwestern Kansas. Like most museums, this one tended to accumulate stuff. And like most museum stuff, some of it defied the easy categorization that would get it displayed more often.

So, once in a great while, the museum would do a “Dagwood’s Closet” exhibit – a display of curious or popular items that never seemed to get out at any other time. (Yes, I know, it’s Fibber McGee who had the junk-filled closet. The name stuck anyway.) Anything could turn up and usually did.

But the one thing that invariably turned up, easily the most popular rarely-displayed item, was the Great Hairball. The largest hairball ever retrieved from a cow’s stomach on the IBP kill line.

Sorry. I know some of you are eating breakfast.

The museum’s staff assured me that it had been even bigger before it dried out. They found it weird, even a little disgusting. But they couldn’t deny its popularity. The thing even had its own postcard, with the ball posed next to a ruler to show its true size.

Amazing what we get attached to, isn’t it?

Granted, most of us don’t fixate on a bovine after-dinner comment. But nonetheless, I’d bet that each of us has at least one attachment we can’t fully explain – some object or person or even idea where all we can say is “I like it, OK?”

For Missy the Wonderful, my wife’s developmentally-disabled aunt whom we care for, it’s purses. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big pink duffel bag, a tiny purple handbag, or her iconic red purse of any style – once she has hold of it, it’s her “booky” and will end up 1) Full to bursting and 2) All but inseparable from her.

Why? Well, why did the Lone Ranger carry silver bullets? It’s part of who she is.

My 18-month-old niece Riley has a stuffed duck she’s hauled around since just after birth. It looks like it. More gray than yellow, defiant of washing machines, grungy to a point where even Oscar the Grouch might look at it and say “Meh.”

She won’t be separated from the thing. Not for long. Try it sometime – but bring earplugs.

It starts that young. And I suspect it never really leaves us. At heart, we’re part of a fascinating world, and when we find a piece of it that resonates with us, we cling on. However strange the attachment may seem.

It’s why there’s a doorknob on my desk at work, a tongue-in-cheek award from an old acting company.

It’s why my wife has hung on to the head of a Holly Hobbie ornament since childhood, even after the rest of it vanished one Christmas. We feel like headhunters setting it out each year – but set it out, we do.

They’re objects that carry memory. Or comfort. Or an odd fascination.

And without them, we wouldn’t feel completely “us” for a while.

That’s not a bad thing. Oh, it can be, I suppose. We’ve all run into attachments that hold us back or weigh us down, things we know we should throw away and can’t quite. Objects of the hand or objects of the mind, they may as well be the One Ring for all the power they hold.

But most of the time, it’s more benign. A proof, if you will, that anything can be worthy of love, no matter how small or strange it may seem.

When you come down to it, that’s a very hopeful thought.

Touch the world. Experience it. Let some of it come along for the ride. Have a ball.

Only – not a giant mutant hairball, please?

I’m pretty sure one of those is enough. Really.