The Sun is Setting on an Era

Lake view

Several years ago, I read an essay in a magazine about a middle-aged woman who was dealing with what to do with her mother’s prized antiques. She had recently decided to sell them and the essay was about coming to terms with letting go of the things that had meant so much to her mother.

I read that then, knowing I would be that woman someday.

My someday is here.

Perhaps it was reading “The Lovely Bones,” which is a book about moving on – for the living and the dead in that case – but I awoke one morning several weeks ago ready to let some of the things I have of my mother’s finally go.

My mother loved to antique, so I have quite a few pieces and only a very few have I found a place for in The Little House or The Belle Writer’s Studio.

Ironically, it’s the pieces that are perhaps worth the least monetarily that are worth more to me sentimentally.
The hardest is the 1950s-era dining room china cabinet and table on which my mother served so many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. After our little bungalow was remodeled, which took out the tiny dining room and opened the kitchen, the set waited almost unnoticed in a corner of the back family room until the holidays, when the furniture was moved and the dining room table extended to seat my parents, three siblings, brothers-in- law and 5 nephews. Sometimes, there was a “stray,” as my mother called them, and engineer or car inspector my father brought home from the railroad who couldn’t be with their own family for the holidays.

After we moved from the bungalow to the big brick Tudor, the set found a home once again in a formal dining room.

The set has been moved so many times now that the legs on the table are loose and wobbly and dampness is causing the veneer to come loose on the bottom portion of the hutch. But my mom loved that set; it represented to her the first pieces of furniture that weren’t hand-me-downs.

Most of the rest of the pieces were purchased for that move to her dream home, the Big Brick Tudor.

One of the other pieces I’m having trouble parting with is a huge portrait of what I’ve always thought of as the French countryside. It’s in a beautiful gold frame. Mom looked all over the city to find just the right piece to go over the fireplace in the living room. The fireplace was centered on a wall with two leaded glass windows and leaded glass built in bookcases on either side, so the centerpiece needed to be something stunning that screamed from the Gilded Age of Victorian decadence.

The portrait was bought at the Jones Store and I remember it had to be delivered, as it wouldn’t even fit into the trunk of my dad’s 1978 Ford Fairmont.

Although too overwhelming for most of the tiny apartments my mom lived in after selling the Tudor, she took it with her everywhere, a reminder of the house she loved.

When she finally moved into the duplex a block from our home, the portrait hung on a wall above the stairs. Dale and I bought one of those fancy art lights that highlighted the massive piece and she used as a nightlight to guide her up the staircase to bed. She even insisted on taking the portrait to the tiny senior apartment, where she spent the last year of her life.

It’s things like that, rather than things like the antique pie safe and spinning wheel that I’m having a hard time coming to terms with selling. Yet I know now that I will never have the room or the need for them. I know that it would be better for someone else to enjoy these items.

Logistically, it might be hard to get people to come out this far to look at the pieces, and when Dale asked me to come up to the storage area the other day to “look at some of this stuff and decide what you want to do with it,” for the umpteenth time, I was horrified to find most of the wooden pieces (including my own furniture from our house in the city) had developed mildew. I’ve read it can be carefully washed, but I need a warm sunny day (or probably at least a couple).

However, the splotchy mold only pushed me further to let it go, let someone else’s large family enjoy the dining room set and maybe some other person restoring an old Victorian will get nearly 30 more years of enjoyment from that painting.

It’s time for the sun to set on that era of my life.

Have you ever had to part with things that held so much sentimental value? Also, readers, would appreciate any tips on cleaning mold and mildew from wood and finding an appraiser who can tell me what some of the oldest pieces I have are worth.

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36 Responses

  1. Meredith says:

    It’s such a universal yet highly personal process, this letting go stuff. Like you said, end of an era.

  2. It’s a tough process, either way. Sorry about the mold, though. C’mon sun.

  3. When my grandmother died a few years ago, we found less than a carload of things we wanted to keep. The rest of the furniture and the rest of the house full of “stuff” was nothing more than a burden to the family members who had to deal with it.

    Hopefully someone found use for the things that were donated, but we cared about little other than old photographs, which we promptly digitized so they could be shared with whomever wanted them.

    I won’t go so far as to say all that stuff was a burden left to family who then had to deal with it, but none of us cared about the sticks of furniture or dish sets. They certainly weren’t “her” which is what we’d rather have had.

    • I agree, James. You’re a smart person, it takes most of us awhile to let go of the stuff, as most times, we connect it to the person. What this has taught me is not to leave too many things for someone to deal with after I’m gone.

  4. I’m glad I don’t have many cherished items as they would be so hard for me to part with. One, is a cedar chest my grandmother gave me when I was thirteen. In it, I have a quilt she made me along with sentimental items my children wore when they were very young. When I open it the smell reminds me of her and my own childhood. I’ll have to be about on my deathbed before I pass it down to one of my children.

  5. Linda Mason says:

    My sister got all of my mom’s things. I already had a few of the china cup and saucer sets she had collected over the years, in storage too, but she had no real attachment to them. I have a quilt top my grandmother had started. All scrap material and she used the string that came on the bakery boxes to sew it together. I cherish that. The hardest thing for me to part with is my son’s stuff. I lost him when he was 11 and that was 28 years ago. Gave a lot of his toys and things to cousins but kept enough things for myself. Those things will stay with me until I am gone. All the children’s books I gave to daughter and don’t ask what she has done with them. Don’t want to know. I am glad to not have any big things to deal with. Keep going and you will do what is best for you.
    P.S. We have a little house too! A small kitchen/bath area and a bedroom that we literally live in. I also do quilting here. We are in the process of doing all the inside work ourselves. It is small, only 12 x 28 with two 12 x 12 loft areas. We have been married 34 years and like being close to each other.

    • I’m so sorry about your son, Linda.
      Congratulations on your small space! I would love to see photos when you’re done. I know people who can’t stand their spouses living in a large house. I’m glad we’re both lucky enough to have spouses we love and enjoy! 🙂

  6. Vida says:

    When we left Spain for Greece we sold everything: clothing, my entire book collection that I had sent over from California and expanded over a dozen years, our antique toy collection put together lovingly over uncountable flea market Sundays, similarly curated antique radio collection, two apartments(!!), every stick of furniture that we owned (and mostly built ourselves), all our kitchenware, our beloved hardware tools, all the costumes and set pieces that we had designed and made over years of working in film and theater, etc.etc.

    The only thing of sentimental value that we did not sell was our little 1973 2CV vanette. We drove this over land and sea to Greece and we brought only what we could fit into the car, ourselves and our two fox terriers.

    When we left at dawn one morning in July of 2004, I felt pangs of sadness as a chapter of our lives closed. At the same time I felt literally, foot loose and fancy free. We carried all that we owned in the world with us and it gave us an incredible sense of freedom and lightness of being!

    Letting go of things can be hard but it can also be a great relief. I have never regretted the move to Greece. We still have our 2CV though….

  7. Christine says:

    Love reading your artical in Mother Earth News magazine. Would like to have what you have. We live in a 2 story brick house built in 1876. Love the house, but don’t like the upkeep and the cleaning. We are outdoor people, and love to garden. We have enought acreage on the farm to be able to do what you’re doing, just not the funds right now. Hopefully soon though. Best to you and my God continue to bless you.

  8. MarthaandMe says:

    I am on the other end of this. My grandmother passed away last year and as the family was dividing up her things, my mom kept pushing me to take things. “Don’t you think you want this? Couldn’t you find a place for that?” She also said that she knew my grandmother would not want her things going to charity or a yard sale and that family should take them. The result is I have many, many boxes of things I am never going to use that are now in the basement and in storage at my parents’ lake house. I’ve even forgotten what most of it is since I packed it away last summer. I tried to say no to things. One thing that was specifically left to me was a converted oil lamp that would never in a million years look right in my house. I knew right away I didn’t want it. Yet I was guilted into taking it since it was left specifically to me. Sigh. My only hope is I can foist some of it off on my kids as they leave the nest in the next 5-10 years. I also took the dining room set, but I really needed a new one since mine had been chewed by a dog and damaged by water. It’s not what I would have chosen, but it works for now at least. It’s so hard to let go of stuff, but it really is just stuff when you come down to it. The memories are what matter.

    • You’re right, it is those memories that are most important. Maybe your kids will help you take some of it off your hands. If not, maybe you can sell or donate it without your mom knowing! 🙂

  9. Amy says:

    Sigh… Kerri it was very good to read this post and the comments. As the keeper of the family hierlooms who wasn’t blessed with a child of my own to pass them all to. I’m not looking forward to the day I will be in your shoes. I know it is all just stuff but it is stuff that was not just cherished by my mother but grandmother and great grandmother and ETC ETC for a few more generations. Hmm… Now that I think about it I don’t really ever want to have to think about it so maybe I can just hold on until I’m gone and let some stranger who doesn’t know the history deal with it all.

  10. Sandy says:

    Oh boy, I feel your heartache. In 2001 my favorite Grandma passed away. She was 96 and still lived in her own home, never developed Alzheimers and was a really amazing woman. She passed away suddenly from a stroke, just as she had die quick and never be burden or live in a nursing home. I can only hope I will be so fortunate to follow in her footsteps. During the last few years of her life, she began to clean out her house giving away things she no longer needed or things she wanted us to have.

    On my last visit to see her, she gave me a box of glass pieces and mismatched depression glass. She put my name on her old tredle sewing machine that I had always loved so it would be mine someday. I also got to pick 10 of her quilts.

    After she died, years passed as I just didn’t have the heart to sort through those boxes. Only in last couple of years have I managed to start the job of paring it down to what I really need to keep. They say you should neve keep memories
    in a box, instead display what’s important and donate or give it away to someone who will use it.(Sounds good, but can we really do it?)

    It’s difficult, I am so reminded of her when I periodically go through the “box” and those memories are bittersweet reminders of her and her wonderful little house I loved to visit.

    I’ll be thinking of you.

  11. Pamela Knight says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is very hard to part with things left after a loved ones death. I have very few things left from when my mother passed, but the things I do have were in her hands, or on her person, or read by her, anything that was dear to her. I talk to God and ask him to talk to her for me and ask him to tell her that I love her and significant events in my life. The last gift my mother gave me prior to her death was “A Lemon Meringue Pie” for my birthday, will never forget that. Made with Love. Thanks again Kerri for sharing.

    • See, Pam, your pie is the perfect example of how things can live in our hearts and memories and don’t necessarily need to be “here” in the physical sense.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. Cindyt says:

    Hard letting go of things with strong memories attatched. But it is so true and comforting to remember that the things may find a new home…but our memories are still there! I do keep small little every day things of my dear Grandmother who mostly raised me, my sister and a cousin! Like the little tin measuring spoons she used and the biscuit cutter she used! They make my cooking and baking efforts ‘taste better’ as if she had a ‘hand’ in the making! These little things, I will always keep! They make me smile. Good luck as you move forward! Your Friend, Cindyt

    • That’s a great story with your baking stuff, Cindy. I have my mom’s baked bean pot and I swear, they don’t taste as good when they aren’t baked in that pot!
      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  13. Rhonda Mock says:

    A FEMA employee gave me this recipe to clean mildew from wood furniture.
    A solution of Dawn detergent & water in a bucket.
    (Why Dawn, I don’t know, but he was specific.)
    Wipe the furniture down with a damp cloth…wring the cloth out well. For the really pesky, stubborn parts, I used a Teflon sponge. No scratches!
    Wipe, wipe, wipe, wipe….inside and out. Then wipe it down again with a solution of 1 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon water.
    Set the furniture out in the sun for a few hours.
    The old wax will go white in places, but think goodness for that! It’s protected your furniture!
    Strip the old wax off with a wax remover.
    Wax it with good old-fashioned paste wax.
    My antique desk and table haven’t had a drop of mildew since…
    Oh, be certain to wear rubber gloves…..
    I had tried other solutions and recipes, but this one really worked.

  14. Kerri, your blog post today was a very emotional read. Your mother was so much like my mother. Wonderful women filled with love and life. I been down sizing for a couple of years. Arkansas moisture ruined by black & white negatives and many other items.

    Mary Nida

  15. Lola says:

    Kerri–Thanks for this post, which is just what I needed to read. I’m lucky–my mom is healthy at age 82. But your piece resonates for two reasons: First, I own some “valuable” heirlooms (the piano my grandfather bought me when I turned 6, the bed that belonged to my great-great-grandmother) that I will never use and I sort of want to relinquish. They give me not joy, but…guilt? Not exactly, but close. Meanwhile, my mom has so many wonderful collections that have given her joy over the years, and I look at that stuff and wonder how we will ever deal with it. Your post and the comments give me some good things to think about.

    • kerri says:

      I think the key is Lola to not rush it or allow other people to rush you into any decisions. I’ve often wondered in these three years since my mother passed if I could ever do it. The release does eventually come.

  16. Kathleen Winn says:

    I think that letting go of “stuff” is healthy and freeing, but very hard if that “stuff” has special memories attached. I know it must be bittersweet to part with such precious family treasures Kerri. I hope you have success with removing mildew, I have heard that it can be done, but unfortunately I have no experience with trying it myself.

    I know your mother would be happy to see her heirlooms make some other antique collector proud and happy. Good luck with the process. I enjoyed reading your very touching thoughts and memories associated with the task.

  17. Alexandra says:

    It’s so hard to let go of things that held meaning for deceased parents! I have been through this too, without total success. I still have a collection of small antique cups my mom collected. They take up space, but I cannot bear to give them away.

    To get rid of the mildew, you will have to use a solution of Clorox and water, 1/5 Clorox to 1 cup water, I believe. There are instructions online. Hopefully a reader with more experience will provide greater detail on how to proceed … Also, you need a sunny day, as you mentioned above.

    • kerri says:

      Thank you, Alexandra. Your cups sound adorable. Fortunately, I was able to sell most of Mom’s collections – bears, dolls, etc. when she moved to the senior living complex. It’s the big pieces I’m dealing with now. Knowing I will never have room for all of this in The Little House makes it easier.

  18. Wojo says:


    I’ve been doing the exact same thing now. I’m getting rid of things that were my mom’s–she loved them, but I don’t. I’ve gone through feeling guilt and sadness. But what keeps me able to do it is that I think about how someone else will really want these items. They will love them. And when you come down to it, they’re just things. I’ll always have the memories of mom in my heart…

    • kerri says:

      Exactly, Wojo. Our dear mothers don’t live in these things, they’re still with us, always.