The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Function Over Form

One Saturday about 50 years ago, I was outside in the backyard playing “Lost Kids” with my brothers. Suddenly the most spectacular crashing noise startled us back to reality. We crept toward the side yard just in time to see a cardboard box fly through the air and land on a bedspring. In unison, we three dodged backward as another box, and then a third thudded onto the pile. The bedspring was one of those old jobs made of metallic straps. It recorded the landing of each item with a resounding “thwang!” Two and one half stories above, we heard a steady grumble of profanity accompany each subsequent launch. Mom was cleaning the attic.

That spring day she ruthlessly pitched* grandmother’s clothing, furniture, Dad’s darkroom equipment, and a pickup truck’s worth of miscellaneous goods to the ground. I tried to salvage a couple of grandma’s things. She had this really cool straw hat – a very wide brim without a crown, embroidered all around in gaudy raffia flowers. Mom would not hear of it.

Jean was all about function. She cared very little about form. Mom was a very pragmatic woman and was not inclined to surround herself with trinkets or useless items.  If an item had outlived its purpose, it was kicked to the curb. So, why then, did she hold on to these two?

Miss Muffet and Jack Horner

Miss Muffet and Jack Horner

These ceramic figurines sat on Mom’s bureau. I remember being fascinated by them when I was old enough to wander into her room and snoop through her drawers. They clearly held a special meaning for my mother. A gift from Dad? A souvenir from a trip? I’ll never know.

What’s more mystifying is why I hold on to them. They are not the sort of ornament that I would pick up for myself. I want to make this perfectly clear to my readers! Muffet and Jack are NOT my style! However, after mom died, and my brothers and I divided the contents of her estate, they came to stay with me.

There is a lesson here that still needs completion. For the longest time, I did not understand the compunction to own ornaments, to acquire things like spoons or Royal Doulton. Why would anyone want to surround themselves with stuff that only needs to be dusted? Besides I am frugal (cheap, cheap!) like Jean.

Once or twice during a purging phase of my own, I tried to throw them away. It wasn’t time. I need them yet to remind me, that yes, it is important to credit an article’s utility. But I also need to acknowledge that trinkets like this do serve a purpose, a function. They represent the need to surround yourself with beauty or with articles that allow you to connect with something deeper, more emotional and significant than functionality alone.

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*Pitched was one of Mom’s favourite words. That and “hold your horses”, and “It’s for the cat”, meaning “worthless”.

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Keepsake: Function over Form is Part One in a Series

Little Miss Muffet and Little Jack Horner by Ceramic Arts Studio, Madison Wisconsin

Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner

Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet

Ceramic Arts Studio Madison Wisconsin

Ceramic Arts Studio
Madison Wisconsin

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Categories: Blog Blog Blog, Mom and Dad

Tags: , , ,

38 replies

  1. Keep them. Print this article and pass them and their story to the next youngster who shows an interest in them. And someday they will write about them. Lovely post Maggie.

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  2. Entirely agree, Maggie: there are things we need to hang onto for the sake of their associaton, and that’s IT. 🙂

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  3. Your post was very thoughtful and had a lot of quiet power. It’s an interesting question, why there are some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And I love the accompanying pictures!

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  4. I live by the rule, if it hasn’t been used in 6 months… It’s gone. My husband is always saying, “have you seen such & such?….. Oh wait, you threw it out, right?” I always deny throwing his stuff out, but he knows I have. I save NOTHING, probably because my mom saves EVERYTHING. The other day I asked her for some gold buttons, she brought me 4 gallon sized containers full of miscellaneous buttons. I found 6 brass ones that were once on my dad’s army uniform, I was thrilled.
    But I still won’t save stuff that’s not being used.
    Anyways, I think Miss Muffett & Jack are kinda cool.
    Plus, they are small enough to live on a small shelf out of the way…. What could they hurt to keep around?!?

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    • We are totally the opposite in our house. I am forever asking Prince Charming, “where is my…” to which he claims ignorance, but I know that he knows that I know that he’s tossed whatever it was because he hasn’t seen me use it or doesn’t know its function. It’s maddening, I tell ya. On the other hand, I acknowledge I have hoarding tendencies, and if I really need it, I don’t hesitate to go buy a new one. ;>

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    • Hi Erika – thanks for reading and joining the conversation! I wish I could use your approach to my hubby’s stuff. [Reiner? look away] When he and I combined households, the mass of accumulate “stuff” more than quadrupled. He has bins of cr*p in the basement and thank goodness we have a large garage. Yeah, Miss M and JH will hang around for a while longer. Have a good one!

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  5. ooooohhh, is it not just making you crazy that you don’t know the reason for why your mother held on to these? I would start writing/composing stories filled with reasons of my own, if I were you. Hey! They are your new Daily Writer’s Prompt!!! In one of your next posts, I wanna see what comes up for you on that!

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  6. What an interesting read for a Sunday morning, I’m dying to know why your Mum kept them. There just has to be a story there.

    My Mum kept everything, headless ornaments, photocopied photographs pinned to the wall, cards she’s kept from all occasions, she was a proper magpie. We cleared her flat and threw it all away, except for a couple of things, one being a teddy bear that I bought her. She cried when I gave it to her as she’d never had one in her whole life and always wanted one as a child. It still makes me smile when I look at it.

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    • Hi Lesley, and a happy Sunday to you! I like the story of your mum’s teddy. I think there is some kind of magic involved – the kind that Disney tries to capture in the fairy tales – how we are able to concentrate our love and transfer it to an icon, a keepsake, an ordinary inanimate object. Isn’t that what Pinocchio was about? This little trinket then becomes a keystone that secures and supports the connection between gifter and receiver. Thank you for reading, and thank you VERY much for sharing your story.

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  7. “This little trinket then becomes a keystone that secures and supports the connection between gifter and receiver.” Spot on — and likely the reason Mum kept Jack and LMM, and now the reason you keep them on her behalf, eh? Because they also support the connection between you and Jean.

    And, oh, on a completely separate track: GET OUTTA TOWN — You have two brothers, TOO?! How did I miss that memo? Mine are younger (twins in fact). Yours? (She asks having clearly not read every single post you’ve written so far.)

    :>

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    • And a Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah morning to you, too! (Totally caffeine powered, here.) I don’t think I’ve said a whole lot about my brothers yet, so you’re good. They are both younger, one less than a year, and the other four years. I’d say you are my doppelgänger, but that word is mildly off-putting for me. Soul sista it is!

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      • Interesting factoid: the first “raffle” I EVER won was waaaay back when I was oh ’bout 10, maybe younger, and I had gone to see (some movie or other) in some school theater (before they became multipurpose rooms) and lo and behold MY ticket was called and I won an album which included Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and I got to walk down the center aisle in front of (hundreds) of other kids to retrieve it. Yahoo!

        Now, that I’ve dragged you down my memory worm hole, let’s listen to the Louis Armstrong version together, shall we?

        We must in time discuss your distaste of the word doppelganger as I find it to be a rather cool word, myself. So lookee there, our brains do have some separate parts! hehe

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  8. How interesting this blurb of yours this morning, Maggie! One little trinket is not much to keep and to store as a sweet memento from your grandmother.

    An episode, many years ago, occurred during a time when my mom had joined this charismatic-religious-catholic group. A journey of judgment and cleansing. A hurtful time! To this day, she has kept everyone’s keepsakes except the ones I had/ve given her. Everything was returned to me and I sold the lot on the graveled shoulder off the Trans-Canada highway. On that same day, after everything sold, she begrudged me for having done so. Thank you for letting me share this.

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    • And thank you for sharing with me. That must have been extremely hurtful! There seems to be a blindspot in a mother’s view of her daughter. I cannot speak to it from a mother’s point of view. I have no children.
      Perhaps it has nothing to do with mother/daughter stuff at all. More to do with what’s going on in her life – purging, the need to find some sort of order and control. I’m sure, in the case of my mom that day in the attic that she was displacing some anger and frustration and trying to find some balance.
      Look at me, the keyboard shrink.

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  9. Lovely post. My mom loved trinkets, make that LOVED trinkets. I kept so very few and hope she wasn’t insulted. After she died, I invited each of her friends to her home to pick out a keepsake that would remind them of Mom. I’d rather have experiences than stuff and her having so much stuff sadly reminds me of the experiences she didn’t have.

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  10. Hi Karen, thanks for reading and sharing your story. I wish I had known you while you mum was alive.

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  11. Nice! How well I understand. My mother-in-law who passed just last Sapt at the age of nearly 101 had an entire china cabinet full of such treasures. When she sold her house after living there over 50 years to mive into a retirement home some 23 years ago, she bequeathed all but a few items to me. We were as close as a mother/daughter and I miss her dearly. I, unlike yourself, as a Cancer, am a pack rat, reasuring napkins from special occasions, the perfect autumn leaf and every drawing my boys ever made for me. It is the bane of my husband’s world. It is ot the things of course. It is as you said. They hold memories more precious than any thing I could possess. Of course I have my moments like your Mom. Then “gone is gone.” 😉

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    • Hi Cheryl – 101! That’s a whole ‘nuther level of “wow”. I’m happy to hear that you had a wonderful relationship with your mum-in-law.
      I understand, I think, the appeal of documenting/curating your life. My sister-in-law has her baby-teeth and ribbons and report cards and dolls and storybooks, ticket stubs, yearbooks… She has shown me some of the articles and I feel a pang of regret for not having my own. But then I get over it, LOL. Which is just as well. I’ve moved so many times that I needed to travel light. One thing I do regret, very much, is unloading my highschool yearbooks. They were damaged in storage – mildewy damp basement. Instead of bringing them with me on the next move, I tossed them. Bad move, that.

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      • Ahhhh.I’m sorry about that. Yes, I do still have all my yearbooks as well as one of my Dad’s. Thanks for your kind words. I will have to do some serious purging when we return to Costa Rica soon. I am hoping there will be mini al “gnashing of teeth” over it. We have also moved a lot and I have seriously scaled down, but not six suitcases’ worth.

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  12. It’s been over 4 months but I finally, FINALLY remembered to ask my dad about these figurines. He said they were very reminiscent of Hummel figurines from Germany. After a little digging I found this website. And this Etsy page for Ceramic Arts Studio figurines to give you an idea of what else is out there.

    I still haven’t seen your exact set being offered for sale. Who knows, maybe it’s one of a kind. Sorry it took me so long to remember to do this but the point is, I DID remember . . . eventually. 🙂

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    • Awesome! Thank you so much for thinking of this! Sorry for the delay in replying. Somehow your comment ended up in spam… and I just now did some housecleaning and found it.

      Now I’m off to check the links!

      Hope you are doing OK?

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  13. Maggie, I sold real estate for over 25 years, so I’ve been in more houses than the average bear. Some are sterile, devoid of anything that makes them uniquely their owners’, perfectly decorated and styled. Blech. I’ll take a couple ceramic statues that remind you of your mother any day over the latest decorator trend.

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    • I’ve seen those sterile homes, too. They feel slippery, cold, like something that has nothing to hold you. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      It’s been fun for me to re-read some of my earlier stuff. Makes me smile.

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