Wednesday, January 4, 2012


For many years, my closet held a dirty little secret. Behind my boots, wedged between the wall and some outmoded purses, lay two beautiful Chinese scrolls that belonged to my parents. They once hung elegantly in our dining room, whispering of orange blossoms in foreign tongues. But in my home, they sat collecting dust.

I expect the distraught phone call from my father any minute now.

As far as I can remember, the woeful tale of the Chinese scrolls goes something like this: After my mother died, I claimed them for my own but had no clue how to refurbish their frayed edges. Track down the original artist? Unearth a craftsman in Chinatown?  Ack! The scrolls were rapidly eclipsed by the influx of other items from Mom’s house.  I stuffed them into my closet where they seemed to be gradually decomposing --their tattered edges taunting me daily.  Instead whispering of orange blossoms, the scrolls now hissed, “You are a pitiful steward of family heirlooms. Shame!”  Luckily, my mother had a different mantra.

Mom did not like obsessing over stuff. When one of her friends was packing to move, she’d be the first to help. The woman was ruthless, convincing friends to part with stacks of mismatched sheets, incomplete board games, and old birthday cards. “It’s just stuff!” she repeated, rapidly whisking boxes off to Goodwill. “It’s just stuff.”

The clutter wasn’t really what bothered Mom. (Turns out she was a bit of a pack rat herself) What  frightened her was when our fixation on belongings damaged relationships. She shuttered at stories of divorced couples battling over houses and cars, or children of deceased parents squabbling about china.
“Don’t ever do that when I’m gone, Amy,” she would say, shaking her head. “It’s just stuff.” (Note: One of the good things about having a highly-opinionated woman for a mother is that she left me with a pretty detailed blue print of her worldview. ) 

Armed with the mantra “It’s just stuff,“  I solved the of the Chinese scrolls quandary with surgical precision.
(a)    After years of living here,  I noticed a large empty wall in my apartment;
(b)   I remembered the scrolls wasting away in the closet like Harry Potter at the Dursleys’. I took a deep breath, repeated, “It’s just stuff” to myself three times, and
(c)    Showed the scrolls to a designer friend of mine. I ignored her gasp of disgust, before simply saying: Get them framed.

And that’s what I did. Now my scrolls are something new: Two smartly framed pictures with a beautiful poem in Chinese calligraphy.

I shyly showed them to my brother, who wrote a note more beautiful than any poem:

“Sometimes even your powerful memory is overwhelmed by how hard you are on yourself. Those scrolls have had tears in them for years! I remember when Mom had them, there was one with the bottom ripping off, one with a hole in it, and the wooden weights at the bottom were both tearing the paper. They are over thirty-years old and have not been re-matted or anything in all that time. So it looks like you really saved them.”

Thus, I have an addendum to Mom’s old adage. “Give yourself a break. It’s just stuff.


  1. Rick and I live by that motto. Loved this!

  2. Wow, they look beautiful.. wonderful piece.

  3. Amazing, Amy. Your mom would be so proud of you, as we all are. That can be tough stuff to deal with and you did it with your usual poise.


  4. Thanks, Ryan. I know you are a champion organizer, so it means a lot coming from you.


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