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Jo Knowles: Why Are You Keeping That Thing?

Yesterday at church, the visiting minister read the poem “The Things,” by Donald Hall. It’s a poem about saving things. Stuff. Even broken stuff. It’s about why we do it. And I am telling you, it is beautiful.
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I kept thinking about all the things I save, but more importantly it brought me to the things my parents saved, year upon year, move upon move. And what each of those objects means to me, and must surely mean to them.

Whenever we get the urge to purge and clean out our basement (an extremely rare occurrance, believe me) my husband always asks, why we’re keeping this or that. Sometimes I know why, and sometimes I don’t. If I don’t, we usually put it out by the side of the road with a “FREE” sign on it and it’ll be gone within an hour or two.

But there’s one object we always arrive at that I never quite know how to justify. It’s old, and rickety and even though I daydream of finding a use for it someday, we’re going on ten years at this house and still it sits down there.

So when my husband asks “Why are we keeping this table?!?”

I don’t have the best answer.

It’s an old table. Rectangular. The top is exposed wood, the bottom is painted blue. There is a single drawer in the middle.

My parents gave it to me because it resembled the table in the kitchen where I grew up. Where I would sit and do my homework while my father made dinner. The table the cat slept on, no matter how many times we shooed her off. And the dog slept under, letting me use her back as a footrest or foot-warmer, depending on the season.

My look-alike table served as a desk in my bedroom. It was also slept on by various cats through the ages. It was a listener of stories. The collector of tears. The keeper of secrets.

When my husband and I moved into our first apartment, and then our first house, the little table became our own kitchen table. And like the original, it became a bed for naughty cats. A listener of stories. And a watcher of a small child as he grew. And grew.

But then we moved to a house with a small kitchen that had no room for a table. And so, we put it in the basement among other boxes and objects we can’t seem to part with.

It waits in the basement. Holder of boxes and dust. The occasional sleeping cat. Waiting for my son to take it to his first kitchen. Where it will hear more stories. Allow more naughty cats to nap on it. And be part of the story that keeps on growing.

I suppose that’s it. That’s why we’re keeping it. For someday.

Things have stories. The things we save have a purpose. To remind. To confirm. To promise. There are stories all around you, waiting to be remembered, to be reflected upon, to be told.

So here is a writing prompt for YOU now:

Fill in the blank, and answer the question, “Why are you keeping that [ ] ?!?!?!

This post was originally published on Jo’s blog on 3/25/13.

Posted on: January 22, 2016

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