The Dumpster: by Meredith Sabini
by Meredith Sabini, Dec 5, 2007
“We can’t use these. They look like heirlooms!” Gina, a guest at my holiday gathering, holds up one of the elaborately embroidered napkins from the buffet table. “Where’d you get them?”
“Out of a dumpster. The tablecloth and those candleholders were in there, too.”
“You can’t be serious! Why would they be in a dumpster?” The shock in her voice carried across the room, and others looked up.
It’s common that women ask where something came from, especially if it’s an attractive article of clothing or new addition to the house. But to name a dumpster as the source of anything, especially an object of beauty, is completely unexpected.
My explanation created an atmosphere of mystery. The tale was so unlikely that later my friends joked that perhaps I’d dreamed it.
The red napkin, tablecloth, and candlesticks all belonged to Mrs. Cybulski (not her real name), a widow who had lived down the street as long as I’d been in the neighborhood, about twenty years.
Except to water her yard, she didn’t go out much. And when she did, she stayed near the house, as if the tether fastening her to life had retracted, pulling her toward an eternal home.
One day, I noticed a full-size dumpster in front of her bungalow. I assumed it was for yard debris or trash from some renovation project. But soon strangers appeared. On my daily walk, I could see them scurrying around the property. A boy about twelve sat on the porch, looking morose. His expression evoked a twinge of anxiety in me that perhaps Mrs. Cy had died.
I called over haltingly, “Is she gone?”
“Yeah, she passed.” It was hard to tell whether he was upset at losing kin or just sulky at having to help with an unpleasant task.
Through the large plate glass window I could see a woman balancing stemware between her fingers. A man about forty emerged from the back door, his arms piled high with what appeared to be bedding. I waited nearby to see if he was really going to deposit it in the dumpster.
Reluctant to intrude yet curious, I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Meredith, a neighbor down the street. Sorry to hear about Mrs. Cybulski. Was she your grandmother?”
“Great aunt. Ninety-one. Had a good life,” he said, and proceeded towards the dumpster, our conversation apparently over. He placed the neatly folded sheets and blankets down carefully, as if this were now the room in which they would be kept. I’d seen dumpsters full of discards of all kinds, but never one like this, packed like a trunk for an ocean voyage.
I stood fixed to the spot, bewildered by the odd juxtaposition of sudden death and business-like calm. The nephew soon appeared with the next batch, which he stacked on top of the previous one in the same perfunctory manner. Considering his lack of feeling, I figured I could peer into the dumpster without offending anyone. A wooden daybed, surrounded by perfectly decent household items, was pushed up against one side as if, at any moment, someone was going to recline there with a book for an afternoon read.
I dislike seeing things go to waste and the daybed was just the ticket for my guestroom; the old upholstery could easily be replaced. But asking to save something from the newly departed seemed crude. Was this merely social propriety, or a primordial instinct out of which taboos arise? If the nephew wasn’t especially grieved by his aunt’s death, perhaps he wouldn’t be upset by my request to salvage a motley piece of furniture. Hesitantly, I ventured, “I wonder if I could offer to purchase that daybed from you, if you’re planning to get rid of it?”
“No, but take it. You can have it.” He marched past me without looking, without missing a beat. And I walked inside my first dumpster.
I’ve been to archaeological sites, know the sun-bleached whiteness of bone, the tea-colored stains left by earth. Here, no layers of soil obscured the find. To get to the daybed, I had only to move the piles of bedding. Her hall closet must now be empty, for here were ironed sheets, blankets, table linen, and the kind of embroidered and crocheted cloths that are found in old women’s attics. When I saw these, my own mourning resumed.
Evenings at my grandmother’s had been spent with the two of us huddled together on the divan, working needles of colored thread through squares of muslin, as she taught me how to give shape to the birds and flowers we ironed onto future kitchen towels. The few I have left are like gold to me. My grandmother and Mrs. Cy were of the same generation.
When our grandparents died, my brother and I had to deal with their belongings. It was the late ’70s, a time when the perennial battle between spirit and matter was once again inflamed. Caving in to the pressure not to be attached to things or hold onto the past, we gave away too much and sold the rest for a song. Objects imbued with our ancestors’ mana slipped through our fingers, going to strangers who cared not for their spirit but only their matter.
Into the dumpster were going similar artifacts of a lifetime. I didn’t know Mrs. Cy well but this desecration had to stop. I had recently taken a religious vow of voluntary simplicity and was deeply committed to reducing my over-consumption by keeping existing goods in circulation and tending them with care. I could not stand by and watch while usable things went to molder in landfill. The nephew was headed in my direction with another load and I decided to press my luck.
“Are these linens and bedding going too? I would be glad to give you something for them as well.” I pointed to a stack at the foot of the daybed.
“Oh, I guess you can have them. But I would make sure they get laundered.”
Was it her death that contaminated them, or her life? Trying not to sound snide, I assured him I would wash everything, and began stacking the linens atop the daybed. Among them were an old-fashioned lace coverlet, a fine damask tablecloth with a dozen matching napkins in their original box, and pure cotton sheets with laundry tags at the corners. Laundering did not seem to be the issue.
After setting aside these things, I walked home to get my truck. When I came back, neither the man nor his son looked up, much less offered to help. I dragged out the daybed. Metal springs and horsehair filling made it heavy, but, with leverage, I managed to hoist it onto the flatbed. I decided that I would return for the rest after the relatives had left.
By five o’clock their car was gone. I pulled open the huge doors of the dumpster. I was stunned. It looked as if Mrs. Cy’s entire household had been packed inside. Perched at the top was a faded green Chesterfield. I would not have been surprised to see Mrs. Cy’s angry ghost hovering just above it.
Dressed for this venture in jeans and work boots, I approached with an apprehension that went beyond social propriety or legal concerns. What had happened to Carter when he first opened King Tut’s tomb? Didn’t he die soon thereafter?
The dumpster was full. Between strata of useless items, treasures emerged: several tiny Indian baskets, a lovely handmade cotton quilt in yellows and greens, a pair of tin folk-art wall sconces, an antique brass lamp with a fluted glass shade, circa 1930, a huge red tablecloth emblazoned with white stitching. Dainty tea towels appliquéd with delicate purple flowers. And kitchenware of every type, as if all the drawers had been simply turned upside down. Lawn clippings. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a ziplock bag, white bread still springy.
I lost track of time in this coffin-world. From the position of the sun, it looked to be early evening. I was tired. My hunting and gathering had been bountiful. My truck clanked with its cargo of fireplace tools, a chaise lounge, a Jade plant in a glazed Chinese pot.
The next morning I went back. As I climbed atop the pile, a planter box tipped over, spilling fine dark soil on Mrs. Cy’s navy wool coat. Nature’s pull to compost was strong; I paddled against its tide. A jar of strawberry jam fell out of a damp cardboard box and broke open, adding stickiness to the task. A peculiar magic associated with life’s passing demonstrated itself, as contents that had been securely bound and held as long as their owner drew breath began to give way.
More treasures emerged from the massa confusa: red napkins to match the tablecloth unearthed yesterday—the napkin Gina held up; a small cut-glass bowl on a sterling silver base; a garment bag containing fancy cotton dresses and petticoats dating to 1910 or 1915; a small box carved out of a walnut burl. Then, from a nondescript shopping bag, the most astonishing find: a satin cloche hat beaded with pearls and two antique silk shawls, one champagne-colored with long fringe, the other deep rose.
As I handled these, tears welled up at their beauty, and their abandonment. Were these items part of her wedding trousseau from the old country? By shoving them into the bag, had the nephew or his wife turned their backs on the family heritage, the way my mother and father also turned away from their old world backgrounds?
Mrs. Cy’s shawls, pearl hat, and antique dresses would go into my grandmother’s cedar chest alongside her dishtowels and my other grandma’s black lace mantilla. The heritage of womanhood resides in heirlooms like these, saved for special occasions and stored where the bright light of day can’t dull their radiance. The threads of these garments touch the flesh of one generation, then another, and the next, weaving life’s warp and weft.
Mrs. Cybulski’s things took up residence in my house. The tin sconces were hung above the fireplace, the quilt went on a wall to brighten a room. The brass lamp shed its years of oxidation, the burled walnut box drank up lemon oil. I did wash all the linens and blankets, not to rid them of any lingering odor of death, but to honor them with freshening. When this rite of renewal was completed, I lit the candles in the sconces and said a prayer for Mrs. Cy. I wished her well on her journey and thanked her for this unexpected beneficence. I apologized for disturbing her relatives and hoped she’d understand.
Certain events do resemble dreams. They are like a pebble that falls into a lake, the ripples slowly spreading until the entire body of water registers its impact. Or a bracken fern, tight and compact when it first pokes up above the ground, later uncurling to great width. And so it has been with my encounter with the dumpster parked down the block many years ago. It still ripples throughout my life like a dream unfolding in all directions around a central stalk.
My ancestors also were first-generation immigrants, who arrived in this country with only what they could carry. The little they came to own was theirs for a lifetime. Anything that broke was repaired; chairs and sofas re-covered, tables refinished. Objects did not come and go but remained stable, adding to the stability of the world. What I have of theirs contributes to the weight of my being.
It is common these days to lament how materialistic we have become, but I do not believe this is accurate. It seems to me that we have not yet begun to value matter. Much that is made today is not intended to last and cannot be repaired. Mana is unable to fill our possessions. Lacking substance, they cannot become proper vessels for spirit. We may ask where objects come from, but they no longer have stories to tell. They too have lost their roots. How, then, are we to leave tangible mementoes of ourselves when we go? What will be left to caress?
Share Your Comments and Reflections on this Conversation:
On Mar 18, 2021 Joy Torbert wrote:This is a beautiful article, and I treasure the last sentence " It seems to me that we have not yet begun to value matter." I had a folder of my mother's old hankies, everyday and fancy, and my own from my young life mixed in. I could not give them to my daughter without writing a little piece about each of them - whose they had been, and what they meant to me. It felt "overdone" as a thing goes, yet necessary to be able to release them respectfully. Stuff - it's just stuff, yet we live in a physical space here, and we need to be reverent about our blessings, large and small.
On Oct 21, 2019 Mij wrote:I am faced with decisions this very day. Do I complicate and crowd my small apartment in order to save things Mom left behind? Will I put to use the embroidered pillowcases and table cloths? Will I pass it on as emotional luggage to my daughter? I've let the candle sticks, vaces, fancy plates, silver and music boxes go along with the furniture and all but a few pieces of clothing. She didn't have use fancy things. It's the everyday items, salt and pepper always present on the table and family pictures that pull my hands and my heart. And the things that her mother, my grandmother tatted, embroidered and crocheted, what of those? Mom often said, "You'll have a chore sorting through all this stuff. Just get rid of it." It has been a chore and I go back to face it again now and again in weeks, months and who knows???years? when I move to retirement and beyond. Today I go not knowing but allowing. Trying to let go of 'shoulds' and trying to hold on to the person through things. Things aren't enough even piles and piles of things. She was not attracted or attached to things. What about me?
On Jun 8, 2019 Debbie wrote:Good much needed article. My husband and I had a similar experience from our dear neighbor a few houses away. Dumpster brought in and most everything thrown out. My husband and son were able to save some 'old stuff that wasn't any good' as it was put to them and lovingly take care of it and use it to this day. It is a shame what our society has become with so little feelings for real things that matter.
On Jan 7, 2019 Marlene Daley wrote:A delightful story & wonderfully presented. My Mother never found comfort or joy in her parentâ€™s treasures, always determined to be up-to-date in her decorating style. It has taken years for me to appreciate the artisan beauty of antique furniture. I believe we each possess a love for certain pieces of beauty, whether it be fashion, jewelry, ceramics, porcelain, woodworking or architecture & that through that love, we can anticipate the story that lies within.
On Apr 3, 2018 sandy wrote:It was charming and heart felt. I loved it. I am surrounded with chotchky (sp) in my own house and now my husband wants to go to a smaller space in a "retirement home" which means divesting myself of all these things/memories. Frankly I can't face that, and, with very mixed feelings, have the perfect excuse not to do it yet since my aging dog is ill.
On Apr 2, 2018 Tasha Halpert wrote:What a lovely story. I will send his one on to several. Very touching and very true. Being an elder myself I empathize. Those treasures that Meredith rescued will be cherished onward. How wonderful of her to preserve them.
On Apr 2, 2018 Tony Prance wrote:I live on my own in a small flat surrounded by souvenirs of my 75 years.My daughters say it is a picture of me when they visit so there is some hope they will keep something to remind them of me . I can tell the story of every item in the place and have written that story on some special items that are dear to me. Many things are old and have followed me around the country for fifty years, hell I have a Sunbeam egg cooker that's fifty years old and I use it every week. To be fair I doubt my daughters will be able to use most of my stuff (for many reasons) but I do hope they at least appreciate them as my life's treasures and don't just dump them. Not much we can do about it when we move on except hope they will find a good home for them. I had an old Ford ute for 22 years( Jemma) and did a lot of travelling with her but had to sell her when I lost a leg. I left a note in her glovebox explaining she was a good ute, with a strong and useful engine hoping she would finish her days maybe on a farm and avoid the scrap yard. I volunteer at the local historical museum and I see the occasional item come through but considering how many old folks live in the town and how many funerals we have I think many memories are being buried at the dump, but that seems to be the way of it these days.I enjoyed your story and many of the comments.I suppose we just like to feel it's been worth it and we will be remembered at least for a while by that item someone kept because they loved us or could see it's worth and with luck it will enjoy being part of another generation together with it's background story. I suspect these days many items are for fast flowing lives and as you say due to this cannot become 'proper vessels of spirit'. It is what it is.
On Apr 1, 2018 Mary Burcher wrote:Timely since I just returned from Easter dinner with my adopted mother and her family. My mother has chosen to die on Friday with physician assistance, she 95 and suffering from the debilitating progressive symptoms of post-polio syndrome. There is an awkward pregnant silence when she asks who wants which family heirlooms; what is meaningful to her holds little to none for her offspring. This article makes me re-think the value I place on the pieces of history I have retrieved from the dustheap of possessions from my deceased family members. I will more proudly nurture the memories each piece evokes for me. Thank-you for opening my eyes and my heart.
On Apr 1, 2018 Patricia Garcia wrote:Your touching reflection brought to mind a poem I wrote several years ago.
The expats put it all on the block:
not just the rakes and flower pots,
the canisters and brooms,
the bikes and bric-a-brac,
but those endearing props for living
with their fine patina of remember-whenâ€™s?
and contours like laps for their children,
like woven roots for their childrenâ€™s children.
Can they conjure up no use in London
for their grand four poster bed
with its private cache of lovemaking,
miracle begetting, lollygagging?
Find no function in the Philippines
for their exquisitely wrought rocker
and all the wooden miles itâ€™s logged
over lullabies and fairy tales,
caffeine and cognac-spiked tÃªte-Ã -tÃªtes,
crocheting, cat cuddling and conundrums?
Make me an offer, they say, everything must go.
I see no tears in their eyes,
hear no catch in their throats
but I feel the dike I have set inside
surrender to an onrush of sadness.
Perhaps I arrived too late,
after their own flood had receded.
Perhaps they mark no loss at all,
rapturous gaze intent on the beyond.
Perhaps, along with one particular piece
too precious (for me) to part with,
I take home also at least a little envy.
On Apr 1, 2018 Lon Parks wrote:I am in the
Real Estate business and see this often,Something is missing that is hard to define..We want
more stuff but devalue it so that it brings no happiness perhaps life is treated the same way?
On Apr 1, 2018 Kay wrote:Thank you for posting such a beautiful piece, especially on Easter, the day of resurrection. All of these items were purchased and tended to with devotion; to retrieve them from a nasty dumpster and breathe new life into them is truly a lesson for all of us that everything, and everyone, is worth resurrecting.
On Apr 1, 2018 EmmaEmma Suzanne Lewis Brown wrote:I am thankful that I did indeed make time and read and savor this marvelous article.....I am the last 'girl' of my generation and had a huge host of uncles and aunts on both sides of the family who either gave or willed me things that had come through the generations...for the sole reason I was the youngest and used to love to hear their stories long after everyone else had all but memorized them from so many tellings. They also knew I'd appreciate, use, and keep the things and pass on the stories and this I have tried to do.
Now, a senior citizen myself, I am living a long time bucket list....I have 'saved' a historic home where I once often played and loved to visit while growing up and renovated it to 'modern' but kept the charm. I now run a small bed and breakfast inn out of it and of course also live here as the resident staff. I've used the rooms to display these 'treasures' and even have had custom mattress sets made for the lovely antique beds making them now queen size, comfortable, and gracing each bedroom. I have beautiful hand made clothing from another century and earlier hanging in display of each bedroom and people can look and remember but of course I stress 'no trying anything on, please.' It both pleases and amuses me that almost without exception my guest want to know the stories and share some of their own flashbacks in their family. My biggest compliments are good southern cooking for breakfast and bedtime snack and the treasury of furniture, rugs, art work, needlework, and ambiance of bygone years when life was very, very different from what this generation knows and thinks has always been the 'norm'....best of all is the one remaining slave cabin out back and the legends of the house being a stop on the underground railroad as the run away slaves headed north to freedom. I am proud of what I've done here and grateful to the wonderful workmen, many of whom came out of retirement to help, and of course God who orchestrated it all. Go to the website and enjoy the photos...maybe it will be a source of nostalgia for you and maybe even sometime you will make your way to the foothills of North Carolina and the small, quaint town that Andy Griffith made famous with his tv show. (Mayberry)...he was born and grew up here, just a few blocks away. I am so glad this all fell into place and I could return to enjoy my sunset years in my hometown and gift people the joy of coming to Cousin Emma's (my actual first name and of course the cousin often mentioned on the tv show) and sampling a gracious hospitality of grandma love in everything, even the smells from the kitchen and the secrets of the 12-14ft ceilings who no doubt hold many special secrets of previous owners and workers since the mid 1800's. People ask if it is haunted....my response is always that it feels very spiritual here and I thank everyone who has contributed in whatever way so now I can live here in the midst of everything that brought it to now. My adult children were raised around most of this and knew some of the actual people before they passed so I hope they will salvage much of it and pass it on to other relatives. After all, none of the artifacts and antiques would be around today in museums or private homes if people along the way had not taken responsibility for the care of all of it....we should be forever grateful to these farsighted individuals and their heroic efforts, especially in olden times when life was far less convenient and everything took so much more time and effort.
On Apr 1, 2018 Dolly wrote:Yes, no longer do people treasure the "old" things of life... that's to be expected in a society that does not treasure the "old" themselves. Not like Native American culture, or that found in China, Japan and many other countries. I'm blessed to have a family that treasure me, so blessed.
On Apr 1, 2018 donna wrote:beautifully shared...thank you for honoring her memory in this lovely way...
On Apr 1, 2018 Mimi wrote:Itâ€™s beautiful. A lovely reminder to see the memories/value in special things... so the objects can be remembered and â€œcaressedâ€ by later generations.
On Apr 1, 2018 Virginia Reeves wrote:I have wondered if anyone in our families will care about the items my husband and I have collected over the years. So true that sentimental, long-lasting items are going by the wayside. The artistry, hours of loving effort, and the comfort and joy those items originally brought to the person are lost by not having their stories told and passed on. May this be a reminder to all of us.
On Apr 1, 2018 Penny J wrote:This story is written so well that I could easily step into her shoes. If I had witnessed such a scene I think , as a neighbor, I would have awakened to the fact that I had never extended myself in friendship towards the woman who had owned these things. Did the elderly woman have a sense of belonging? How had I contributed to that? Did she feel her life being honored while she was alive? Why didnâ€™t I care about her stories while she was yet living? Would saving her things really compensate for my previously unacknowledged value of who she was as a person, as a soul? Now to apply it to my own life. Maybe this is really the story she came here to tell.
On Apr 1, 2018 Cletus Zuzarte wrote:Life is like that! Once you are dead, your possessions die with you unless you have bequeathed the same to an inheritor who has the same mindset as you. Yes I do believe someone will come along who will appreciate what you have and have built up over the years. Material possessions do fade but memories and stories attached leave a legacy behind. It is so wonderful to note that I can look at material possessions and read the stories behind them, add value and pass it on to the next generation!
On Apr 1, 2018 Mary Blue wrote:Beautiful story and timely!! I am a 85 year old women downsizing my belongings and my life.Yes, I have my family keepsakes ...I treasure them because I loved the people that wove the fabric,told their stories and passed themselves through precious listening moments down to me.. Time moves so fast and my time on earth is short. Give me the energy to pass on my stories and share the MEMORIES! I once attended an auction of a friend who was a nurse in World War II. She had placed notes on items which was remarkable. On a small folding table was written..."Aunt Lola and I cut out and made doll dresses on this" and on linen towels,ironed and neatly folded in a plastic bag was written "Towels stollen from Chicago Hotel on our wedding night"! Knowing the "rest of the story" gave me so much incite into my beautiful friends life....I loved her even more.......
On Apr 1, 2018 Barbara J. Lee wrote:A beautiful story, well written and heart felt. I think about my own treasures collected over the years and the love that created my home. One day, they too will be placed in a dumpster. I pray someone will feel the loving energy and take them home.
On Apr 1, 2018 Tracey Kenard wrote:What a lovely story. My eyes welled at the beautiful things of "Ms. Cy's" life being tossed like mere trash. SO glad they were rescued to continue giving life in a new place. My mother is elderly and even tho it hurts to even think of her passing, I imagine I will be trying to hold onto to EVERYTHING that she ever owned/touched. This article touched me deeply - thank you.
On Apr 1, 2018 Cedrus Monte wrote:With the recent death of my own mother (almost three years ago), I became the caretaker of her things after her parting. I experienced much of what you describe here first hand. How could I so immediately, if ever, release the treasures of her life, treasures which contained, as you write, the mana of her being? Except in rare cases, it was impossible for me to do. They remain here with me, transmitting her energies, her being, keeping me protected and feeling her love.
This was immediate experience on a very personal level. For years, however, I've been interested in this connection between matter and spirit. Some of my own writing has included it, some of which I include here for your possible interest. I, by the way, am deeply grateful for your work, The Earth Has a Soul. It is a treasure and treasury. Here now, a small sample of my writing:
"I would now like to look at the realm of the imaginal from the perspective of concrete images manifested in the three-dimensional plane. It is not enough for us, beings of spirit, soulÂ andÂ matter, that the imaginal is left undifferentiated in the domain of the material world. The subtle, soul-body,Â more often than not demands corporeality. These materialized bodies are not simply symbolsÂ representingÂ the imaginal. Like mythical images, they are often seen asÂ visitations orÂ objectificationsÂ of the spirit or the 'god' itself, in counter-distinction to being personifications or representations. Avens refers to Cassirer's view to explain this phenomenon:Â â€œThe idea of projection or animation of a dead matterâ€¦is based on the theological prejudice that 'person' is the only carrier of soul and that what we call subjectivity, interiority or inner life, is exclusively and literally possessed by our ego personality." The spirits of myth and theÂ concretized imagesÂ of these spirits are not necessarily "projections or personifications, but objectifications of instantaneous, fleeting, intense impressionsâ€¦ Not all meaning is located in a human individual's consciousness - roses, too, imagine."
This last line is not mine. But I no longer know who said it.
Thank you so much for your writing.
On Sep 30, 2017 Cindy Legorreta wrote:Here it is, the end of September, 2017. I have had a birthday (68), mother has passed away at 95, bless her, at home in her bed, surrounded by loved ones. Most of her wardrobe was laundered, packed, and passed along to the Mexico City earthquake contribution group: like Harvey and Maria, these disasters create opportunities to make compassionate use of castoff clothing and household items. I have, after nearly twenty years 'on the scrounge', refined the art of recycling to make the very best use of my pass-alongs. A week or so ago, I came upon a huge bag, containing many smaller bags - of beads. All sizes, all material, unstrung, in packets. I have an East Asian colleague/vendor whose mother learned the art of beadwork, as a girl in Pakistan. Her silk pillows are embroidered, then given colorful bead accents. Gifted to our circle for many years...they are absolutely breathtaking. I will walk by their shop this morning and visit with the owner. Usually I get a lovely cup of tea, and some delicious, rich pastry from their country. Making the visit entirely worthwhile! My treasures continue. In a side pocket of a donated handbag, I came upon a unique silver cross pendant. It looked a bit like a ankh - these were popular with hippies years ago..? I went online and discovered it was also Navajo, and would sell for about $100. This I gave to a dear friend, and he in return lets me browse his booth at the flea market. No money exchanged in this instance - just a lovely barter between buddies. This is the time of year when many people upgrade their wardrobes and linen closets - so needy community clients can come to me discreetly, and I am able to help them with fresh bedlinen, coverlets, and towels. Someone once asked me 'isn't that a lot of work for a bunch of strangers?" I smile to myself and think, "For those who understand..no explanations are needed. For this who don't..well.." Not only do these items have history, they are having new life, continuing in someone else's home. And while I, like many of you readers find 'just chucking it out', to be somewhat distasteful...I'm far too busy re-birthing these lovely pieces - whatever they may be..to fuss about the superficial whiners who want to 'weed out'. I'm sad about what they are missing. But that's their lookout, not ours!
On Feb 10, 2017 Larry wrote:Beautiful sentiment. Thank you for rescuing the memories and writing so clearly about the feelings involved. I felt cheated when adopting too much of my parents stuff would mean losing a place for my own collection.
On Dec 14, 2016 Paloma pavel wrote:This is a haunting and beautiful piece . As I read I accompanied the writer through a sacred and transformative discovery and journey rooted in the the dignity of honoring Mrs Cy - and a woman's life. An added delight was coming to its reflective ending of inspired wisdom and having the additional delight of discovering the author as Dr Meredith Sabini - an inspiring teacher, colleague and a treasure in her own right - another beauty. Thank yo for your lifetime of weaving the dream landscape with care and devotion like the lace remnant in this image . The extravagant work of women that is often hidden from view or deserved acclaim.
On May 19, 2016 Cindy Legorreta wrote:My latest wonderful find: in the dark, pre dawn, freezing rain, my eye was caught by a pile of unusually angular metal spokes, and I picked up what I thought was a refrigerator rack. Not at all. It turned out to be a piece of modern Judaica: a menorah, one which might have been designed by Giacometti! I will be donating it to my former Dean, Peter Awn at Columbia University, and now I am looking to 'conjure' a pedestal base on which to stand it, for a really impressive display. PURCHASE something?? Never!! It's a beauty, and once again proves my point - great finds are out there. This little menorah can't relate its history, but I am certain there is one; it cannot tell me where it has been, but one thing I do know: it is destined for... the Ivy League. Giacometti must be smiling, somewhere.
On Jan 3, 2016 Cindy Legorreta wrote:My nickname "Conjure Woman" is an affectionate one, given to me by friends, since I seem to have the 'power' to turn up items tossed by others, at just the perfect moment when someone else needs them. For example, now it's mirrors - don't ask why. And I keep finding them on the street, leaning forlorn against black bags piled high for DSNY collection. My neighbor, a retired gardener, is redoing a corner of his Gotham apartment with plants, up to the ceiling near a window. And with those plants - mirrors! All these found on the street; and placed behind the plants, making the room look twice as large. As mom used to say, "Hey, you can't beat the price." I am seriously considering turning my love for the rejected items into a small business. Not only does it warm my heart to see people re-using these things so creatively, it suggests (more than once it has happened) that someone might actually pay me for what I find! Still and all, it's great fun and I'd need to write a book (hey, another nifty idea!) to relate the things I keep finding. Couple of months ago, I passed a trash pile outside a small brownstone. The custodians had bagged everything, but the "night crazies" had ripped and strewn everything all over the pavement - so, having my battered, trusty shopping cart (Rocinante) at my side...I found two large black bags I always keep when I am 'on the scrounge'. I re-bagged everything neatly, tidied up. But in the process, came upon a small, drawstring leather pouch lying beside the cans. My nose for treasure twitched so, I dropped it in the cart, intending to look at it when I got home. Back in my kitchen, I opened the bag and spilled out the jingly contents, figuring from the sound, it might be coins, a broken necklace, or some such. I saw, much to my joy and disbelief, a silver pendant, the center stone an opal, I thought...surrounded by delicate silver lacework, a loop on top for hanging from a chain. Wow. Next, I went online and fed in some keywords to search "gemstone modern style pendant, oval center stone, sterling silver.." and bingo!! This wasn't just silver; it was Navajo silver, signed on the back, and selling for upwards of $250! A colleague up at Columbia University likes to hear about my 'finds' and that Monday, Steve pressed me to tell him the details of any urban excavations I'd made over the weekend. When I mentioned the pendant, he mused, "Now, that's kind of interesting, because my wife's birthstone is an opal,and I was wondering what to get for her birthday next week. Could you show me that pendant? Maybe if you're interested, we can make a deal?" Well, we did..and after some silver polish, a black velvet ribbon added, and a gift box Roberta, delighted, received this from her proud hubby. We came to a fair price, but, better yet... Steve was incredibly glad not to do the roses and chocolates thing one more year! Of course, I had to feign surprise when I saw her wearing it. I think I said, "Roberta, that's stunning!! My, doesn't Steve have great taste?" Steve and I just smiled. And it was all worth it. Still conjuring, on Union Square...
On Dec 22, 2015 Cindy Legorreta wrote:I have been involved with Textile rescue here in NYC for many years and never cease to be amazed what dumpsters and toss bags can hold: A gold trimmed antique salt cellar, wrapped in a kind of mildewed tea cozy, a fur trimmed nipped waist jacket with Joan Crawford style shoulder pads, a Peter Max design retro shirt, a Japanese wedding kimono, hand crocheted afghans, heavy "Real Mc Coy" Scots wool blankets, on and on. But more than the items themselves - everything, and i mean EVERYTHING has a story to tell. Would that I could learn how they came to be there...a person died, there was a fire/breakup/divorce, they moved, there was a flood...so intriguing. I treat these things with curiosity and genuine respect; I consider them treasures of history, in an odd way. And as a longtime 'dumpster diver', I am glad to report my niece is continuing the family tradition: she came home the other night with a black plastic bag someone had left out with the trash in our nabe. Inside, four beautiful, vivid flamingo Hawaiian shirts, reminding me of Montgomery Clift in that scene in "From Here to Eternity?"
On Aug 28, 2015 Dr. Siddiqui wrote:A wonderful nostalgia of similar fond old memorables from what my own ancestors left behind.Thanks for the beautiful narration.Imagine a world devoid of continuity with one's own past.
On Aug 2, 2015 Sharon wrote:I, too love when artifacts around us are filled with a spirit. I feel that many of us are going back to living more simply. The wooden salad bowl also substitutes for the fruit bowl. I find our grandchildren love to know stories of different objects. I think it is important that they do have stories to tell.
Even as something as simple as toys from the past: I was playing Pick Up Sticks with my grandson and told him the story of the embarrassing Christmas exchanges at school year after year. My mother could only afford wooden pickup sticks. She had 7 children. Everyone could see the telltale round cylinder beneath the wrapping paper and snidely remarked to NOT pick that one.
I go to our recycle center and when I see crocheted doilies or even old cookbooks with their stained and dog-eared pages, I take them home to honor them even if it is just for a time before I pass them on to another. I kind of feel I have a big family where I get to honor their attempt at a love and grace-filled life.
On Jun 27, 2015 Bob Wallenberg wrote:Amazing! I have just finished an article on de cluttering in my local paper. This tome has readjusted my thinking. What is one persons junk is another's treasure!
On Dec 13, 2014 Rhonda Davis wrote:Dear Dr. Sabini, you have captured the essence of the answer to your very question with this story. Narrative is the oldest of communicative styles and still serves the purpose for which it was intended - pass on the most important of information in the most important way possible one on one so that nothing is left to chance, so the truest of meaning is conveyed by our voice tones, inflections, nuances and so the message is sure to be delivered to its intended recipient as often as possible with the face of the teller watching the face of the listener for confirmation of comprehension. When person to person contact is not available, narrative stories fill the bill; people are still captivated by stories, especially when spoken aloud and heard by others. It is the truest, oldest, and most remarkable way of conveying our selves - letters, emails, texts, social media - fall short. They are used but they fall very short.
Your story was especially touching for me. It is late now and I must get some sleep. Perhaps I'll revisit and post my reasons. If not, please know your story was beautifully told, honorably spoken for your neighbor and your ancestors to be remembered with respect and love and admiration and gifted to each of your readers. Thank you for giving me what I did not know I needed this evening. I will cherish it.
On Jun 4, 2014 sandy remillard wrote:Meredith, I so resonate with your trail of thought! My father was a bold adventurer backed by two careers and so we traveled and moved frequently...and his rule was not to bring anything from the place we were at. So I left behind a cherished doll, my first Rosary given by an aunt got lost on the way....none of the wonderful 100% silver articles my grandmother had came to my hands, none of the beautiful hand-stitched blankets made it to the next stop. So, as the years have gone by, I have learned not to attach myself to things yet I so appreciate all the love and dedication put into them. I love antiques! I can roam a store amazed at the artistry behind a piece and since acquired only a few articles compensating for the lack of heritage articles. I live nicely in Cumming, Georgia....my dream is to buy a Historic Home and put in treasures that will be valued by us. Delicately created, artistry expressed in the surroundings, thus honoring our ancestors that put so much into that piece, this painting, that tablecloth, that tea cup.... I guess I am an incurable romantic and so love the expression of the human being through his hands...My reflections on this conversation! You are a kindred spirit....thank you so much for sharing....Sandy
On Jul 11, 2013 Sandy wrote:A lovely thought provoking story
On Jun 28, 2013 Susan Leek wrote:This is a beautiful story. I related so strongly to what was very beautifully written.I have often felt this way when I have gone to estate sales and looked at the persons belongings. I would be especially tender in touching the linens and homemade items, because I felt it, they were special.
It is so true about our disposable society, many things don't even have time to be special or gain soul. I lost my beloved family home in the mountains due to a big medical bill. I was and still am deeply effected. I have a basement full of things I have hung onto. My children encourage me to get rid of a lot of it. But I know all the stories that these objects hold for me. sometimes I just go sit among them and think back. sometimes it is very bitter sweet remembering. But I would rather mend an old chair than buy a new one and hold the essence.
On May 21, 2013 KLMR wrote:My mother passed down to me the love of pretty things, and I learned to treasure vintage and antique items, especially passed down through our family. At a bit past sixty, I have thought that I need to put tags and labels or little explanations on things that are of familial value, so that it will be easier for those I leave behind to separate the wheat from the chaff...and not in terms of monetary value but sentimental.
On Feb 2, 2013 sierra wrote:This is a movie I made of a coupe interesting artists. Give this a watch for a couple min starting at 9:30. Dumpsters are a place of discovery... (see link)
On Jul 9, 2012 Bruce wrote:Lavonne Althoff wrote below wondering how her own treasure-trove of objects might live on beyond her. Lavonne: First, if you want to keep this all within your family, let the Son you know will want it know how you feel and arrange to have the material packaged and shipped to him when you go. Hopefully your other Son's will agree to at least helping to honour this wish. If not, perhaps you have friends/acquaintances/family that would perform these wishes for you. Failing all that, you might have friends or local organizations (seniors groups perhaps?) that you could bequeath some/all objects too. Mostly, however, try to solve your problem without worry. There is only so much you can do to influence future events and worrying will do you no good. Perhaps Mrs. Cybulski had similar worries regarding her family and I'm sure she never thought her objects would end up where they have and cherished like they are.
On Jul 1, 2012 sharon wrote:So very true. Thank you.
On Apr 29, 2012 Shirley wrote:I so loved this story, it brought tears to my eyes. Both happy and sad, happy that these 'treasures' were saved, living on and enhancing someone's life. So terribly sad that her family never saw any sentimental value in keeping part of their family history. I have always been a lover of the old, quirky, 'junk' (to others, treasure to me)and love fleamarkets, charity shops to discover abandoned items. Even more so, I treasure items from my grandparents, that I know some of the stories surrounding them, makes them every more precious.
On Apr 4, 2012 Elizabeth Allen wrote:I accidentally put something very similar in a dumpster about 12 years ago. I cried for hours. Maybe you've misread some of your findings.
On Mar 18, 2012 Judy Wootan wrote:Thank you.
On Jan 21, 2012 Sylvan wrote:So very beautiful to read as I take a rest from slowly searching among my mother's trinkets and treasures. She died a little over a year ago; today I feel capable, with the memories and tears each more-than-object elicites.
On Oct 26, 2011 lavonne althoff wrote:i am 81. i am a crafter and a packrat. i have items that go back before my parents were born. photos,hand crafted items, fabric from every era since the turn of the century waiting to be created into more quilts and wall hangings. i figure i have enough to keep my hands busy until i am 110. but lately i have felt really discouraged. i have a son living with me, and another son not too far away that are the type to do just as these people did to cys things. it would even be too much of a bother to sell it or give it away. i have a son and girl living far away and couldn't afford to even come to my funeral but would do just opposite with my stuff. they would value it all. i wish i knew what i could do to feel better about all this.
On Sep 21, 2011 Marcia Petty wrote:Very beautiful. Thank you. I treasure the things I have from my grandparents and mother and worry about their future.
On Sep 21, 2011 Teri wrote:Meridith...reading your words, is like swaying in a hammock on a warm summer day.
On Sep 20, 2011 Tina wrote:My mother just passed away, and my siblings and I spent the day after her funeral going through her treasures in much a similar manner. Like the author, I feel the same connection to spirit and amassed mana through the generations. This piece brought me comfort as I sift through my many reflections at this time. Thank you!
On Sep 20, 2011 Carol wrote:While we don't know Mrs Cy's nephew, or his (and his family's) true emotional relationship with her or her possessions, I think we can assess how he connected with the idea of community. There seems to have been no reflection on the question of whether anyone else could find good with it. Was there a family who recently had a house fire that needed everything replaced? Is there a church thrift shop that would gladly have taken the goods and sold them to raise funds for helping others?
On Sep 19, 2011 John wrote:This is gorgeous, both in content and meaning and just for the pure pleasure of reading it. Such stunning content and thought enveloped in language that is pure pleasure to read. Thank you.
On Sep 18, 2011 Bonnie wrote:I realize that Mrs. Cybulskiâ€™s handcrafted items were of no earthly value to her decendants. That is sad, I soooo wished that those she loved could've realized that the treasure is not in the "item" itself, but the love, care & beauty that went into the creation of the item in the first place. The "item" is only a reminder of the love, care & beauty that was offered before.
On Sep 18, 2011 Joe wrote:Sometimes there is an untold story that casts a dark shadow over the otherwise lovely pieces. Sometimes, the elderly place a fiercely possessive value on these â€œheirloomsâ€ and never let their descendants forget it. The latter are made to feel unworthy of receiving them, or worse, much less important than the possessions. The result is, when the day of reckoning arrives, the built-up rancor and resentment is expressed in the prompt discarding of the now-hated â€˜treasures.â€™ It was thus with my mother.
On Sep 18, 2011 Joe wrote:Sometimes there is an untold story that casts a dark shadow over innocuously lovely heirloom pieces. Sometimes, the elderly place a fiercely possessive value on these â€œheirloomsâ€ and never let their descendants forget it. The latter are made to feel unworthy of receiving them, or worse, less important than the possessions. The result is, when the day of reckoning arrives, the built-up rancor and resentment is expressed in the jettiindifferent soning of the vaunted â€˜treasures.â€™ It was thus with my mother.
On Sep 17, 2011 rosemary wrote:loved this piece...objects hold energy and stories. what a treasure hunt this must have been-i totally agree with her last statement about how we simply have to rethink our response to what is materially created in terms of a whole different kind of value-that is how we keep things in a disposable world-just moved my elderly mother out of her family home and have found new places for generations of family heirlooms-everything in a new, fresh context-a new creative way of experiencing the energy of these things-thanks for the great read!
On Sep 17, 2011 Elise wrote:These words were so beautiful...
On Sep 17, 2011 Deborah Keppel Engelke wrote:I, too, feel this way about physical 'history.' Thank you for sharing this. I could almost smell and taste Mrs. Cy, and I appreciate you gave her 'life,' if only for ten minutes while I read this.
As for dumpster diving...mine is close. We go to household auctions. We began as early marrieds, and found quality stuff you could not get new back then for anywhere near the price (obviously!). Over the years, I have accumulated amazing treasures that I can almost feel the ghosts of their former owners approving my guardianship until my own ghost hovers over them some day (I hope in a distant future, but who knows, right?).
In a small city, sometimes I even 'know' the former owner, and in a way, we both live with these items now. Her/his memory every time I handle them to dust and clean them. Sometimes just to gaze up at them (lovely pictures on my wall, a geisha doll a father gave his teen daughter on my dining room mantle. Two little chipmunks made in Soviet Russia I can pass down to my own Moscow born daughter some day. I hope I can teach her to respect their provenance.
On Sep 17, 2011 Thelda wrote:My community recently had a service to honor the young people who were fledging off to college and travel. Most of them have lived in our small co-housing community their whole lives. We came to a time of sharing with these youngsters, pictures and memories of ourselves at their age. I was lacking any meaningful pictures or stories as most of my childhood was in "children's homes" and frequents moving left behind any mementos. I so wish I had a meaningful history of treasures to pass on to my family and community.
On Sep 17, 2011 SuzyQ wrote:My son will do as the Great (not so great) Nephew did. He is the most unsentimental person I know. I am giving away the special things:110 horse statues I've had all my life, original paintings, etc. But I'm concerned why these men have no feelings or desire to have memories.
On Sep 17, 2011 bookless wrote:To me this is a cautionary tale. I think the many possessions filled with memories (if that's even what they were) aren't the sad part of this story. I think most people try to minimize possessions even if we get them for free - and I hope I have very little when I go to walk in the woods. I also hope I continue to be involved in the world. I don't want my kids to wax poetic over my sheets. I hope my furniture has had a full life and is ready for the great beyond with me. I don't want to burden my children with stuff. I want to continue to be part of the community and fight for a better world. Even as a feeble old person, I can write for Amnesty International for instance. The world is changing very fast and it is scary getting old but as they say - growing old is not for sissies. The fact that this lady lived to her 90's independently is amazing. I think there was more to her than stuff. I wonder if the author had ever even been in this lady's house and gotten to know her. Maybe the nephew missed the person, not the things (or maybe he was really just a jerk). It sounded like this lady had practical possessions she cared for which was great. She probably had a lot to offer besides material things. But I agree that a few things that are good quality are better than lots of cheap junk if that is the point of this story.
On Sep 17, 2011 patricia wrote:being a dumpster diver, i read the story with excitement at the treasures discovered. i finished the story in tears as i thought of Mrs. Cybulskiâ€™s life and how the things she treasured ended up discarded...for a moment. Meredith, what great living and life You add to Our collective continuum by honoring Mrs. Cybulskiâ€™s life. thank You for tears of joy and gratitude.
On Sep 17, 2011 Mary Cimiluca wrote:Reading this beautifully written article, I realized with great sadness that I am becoming the little old lady alone with her treasures. In the last 10 years, I lost my GrandMother, Father, Mother, Husband and when I think things could not get worse, my best friend was savagely murdered. In an attempt to survive all this, after two years of refusing to go out of my home, I packed up from my beautiful house in the East and moved to California to live in the sunshine and try to regain order in my life.
But, I realized, I am in a tiny apartment all alone with my treasures and never go out into the sunshine, my loneliness and isolation just followed me. This article helps to realize that I must do something to break this because I am becoming the lady in the article. BTW, all my sheets and napkins are beautifully ironed.
On Sep 17, 2011 devo wrote:i, like meredith, and like so many other people today, love old world craftsmanship. i flowed with the rhapsody of her tale of dancing through treasures of a passed-on woman's life, giving them sanctuary to continue collecting their history telling patina. i've had similar experience, i have similar treasures. i feel responsible for their care as they pass through my hands.
i do, however, disagree with the summary paragraph. dr. sabini does not speak for me in her collective "we" with her words "It seems to me that we have not yet begun to value matter. Mana is unable to fill our possessions. Lacking substance, they cannot become proper vessels for spirit."
i am a new world craftsman. i design and create furniture, building architecture, clothing, bicycles and tools. i customize cars and motorcycles as well as repair and refurbish all order of broken and discarded items with loving respect for their history.
meredith, i am not the only one, there are many like me. people who design and create and repair and refurbish all order of beautiful things. we build matter that matters. slowly, lovingly, with respect for the beauty of the materials in our hands, we inculcate them with love through skilled application of artistic endeavor.
even in the factories that mass produce seemingly soulless objects intended for a short, disposable use-life, there are workers who imbue these items with their personal pride of a job well done. there is no shortage craftsmanship in the world today.
my suggestion to anyone who looks around and sees soulless junk, perhaps you could look a little longer at the items in your life you see as disposable and notice it is you who see them as such.
it's been said "we don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are". i see many beautiful things all around, created by amazing people who express themselves well, what do you see?
On Sep 17, 2011 Robert wrote:A warm and melancholoy narrative laced with fond memories from a place almost too far from sight in todays age. I wish I could write like Ms Sabatinin!
On Sep 17, 2011 Sue Noon wrote:I enjoyed this article and the thoughts expressed. I found it charming.
On Sep 17, 2011 Donna wrote:When I retired after 30 years of nursing, I was going to have a new business called "Donna the Dumpster Diva!" Unfortunately, my new home is in an area drowning in thrift stores, consignment shops, and Goodwills!!!Over the years I have rescued many treasures thrown aside wishing each one could come with a story. This article made me weep over lost memories and history, hopefully it will help us remember to reuse,recycle, and rescue. Surely someone, somewhere,somehow we can share with others and help make this planet a cleaner, more loving place!!!
On Sep 17, 2011 Debbie wrote:I think a stranger cared more about this lady and the disposal of her material things than her own family. I guess nobody knows the real story because those threads of her life were broken. I do not think people take care of things life they use too but people are more important than things. I wonder if they ever "visited" her while she was living???? That probably been more important to her than all the things that were thrown away. I am glad that somebody benefited from her left treasures but it would of been nice to know the "stories" behind the heirlooms. God bless the "giver" and the "receiver". I think she is probably smiling in heaven.