What to keep…

My grandfather was one of the most influential people in my life. He was a hard worker who had come from a farm, had been working since he was a very young boy and had worked hard all of his life at a succession of businesses.  He was shrewd and honest, but he was thrifty in ways that embarrassed me as a child. Though it was masked from the world by all sorts of practicality and occasional blustering Grandpa was a sentimental person.

Despite the fact that he had moved out of the family homestead in his teens and had purchased a series of houses that were larger and better appointed that the farm house of his youth, my grandfather still owned the homestead, complete with a small barn. By the time I knew it, the house was located in the midst of the city, a bit odd among the slightly newer homes surrounding it. It seemed odd and very unattractive to me – on the small parcel of land in the city with the barn, and a small cottage quite close together.

Grandpa had subdivided the house and rented out the small apartments in the house and cottage, but the barn was his. It became the depository for a myriad of things that did not fit into his basement or attic (which themselves would have been the delight of some future archeologist). It is not that he was a pack rat as much as that he felt that you never knew when you might need something or it might be of value, so you kept it “just in case.”

One summer when I was on the verge of becoming a teenager I was asked to help my grandfather do some work on his pieces of property. And so we were at the cottage cleaning it out between tenants. One day we began the dirty work of literally shoveling out the basement. (The dear elderly lady who lived in the cottage had arthritis and decided that the cellar was a most convenient place to dump the ashes from the coal stove along with the garbage. And it was evident she had done this for years.) When we took a break mid-morning, we ambled into the barn. Grandpa had read a recent article about the thousands of dollars that had been paid to a man in whose barn a rare old car had been found, stored unnoticed for decades. Looking around at the many items stacked and piled all over the place he got a very distressed look on his face.  He finally shook his head and muttered “If only I had thrown out everything that I kept, and kept everything I threw out – I would be a very rich man!”

We need to be very careful what we keep and what we throw away. And especially careful of the memories, and values that are amongst the baggage we carry through life. Too often we hang on to the hurts and hatreds, and the bad memories, which we recall in order to remind ourselves that we are deserving of pity or at the least special care.  But at the dusk of our lives if we have saved all the wrong memories, lived out unhealthy values and carried the wrong baggage we will find our memories and our life lonely and cheerless – and in the end like the barn full of stuff my grandfather observed –worth little or nothing to us or to anyone else.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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1 Response to What to keep…

  1. Judith Bailey says:

    Wow, that’s some serious stuff. The final paragraph is one I have read three or four times. The image is very real. Thanks.

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