9: The Decades Long Dream

9: The Decades Long Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


The Decades Long Dream

Heirlooms we don’t have in our family. But stories we’ve got.

~Rose Cherin

As newlyweds, my husband and I dreamed big. Not of money and mansions and expensive cars, but of something far more difficult to attain in today’s society. We dreamed of simplicity.

On weekends, we’d leave our hectic city jobs behind, pack a lunch, and drive to the mountains, where we’d romp beside clear cool streams. Our favorite part of the day, however, was watching the Arizona sunset explode across the sky, spilling layers of crimson and gold onto the valley below. When darkness finally fell, we’d wait for lamplights to glow like fireflies from the windows of tiny cabins that peppered the night with their warmth. Leaning against a beefy Ponderosa pine, my idealistic young husband would draw me into his arms and whisper, “Someday, we’re going to live in a little cabin in the mountains.”

I’d sigh. “With a rocking chair on the porch?”

“Two.” He’d grin. “For growing old together.”

“For rocking grandbabies.” I’d say.

“We’ll have a Jeep.” He was adamant about that.

“And get a dog?” I’d ask.

“Of course.” He’d promise. “I’ll build furniture and chop firewood.”

“And I’ll bake bread and write books.”

We’d often fall asleep on a bed of soft pine, dreaming of that simple home in the mountains where we’d live happily ever after.

Life went on. I devoted my time to home schooling our three children while he devoted his days to earning a living in corporate America until a layoff, after twenty plus years of service, shook our world. But at the bottom of the rubble, our dream remained.

When a series of job related moves led us closer to family again, we bought a weekend cottage in one of our favorite places, the Ozark Mountain foothills. The old stone cottage was tiny, but it came with a mighty view from a ridge high above the river. Little did we know that within a year it would become our permanent home.

After twenty plus years of marriage, moving into a home with less than half the space required considerable downsizing. While the process proved to be cathartic, it was far from simple. Where does one begin?

For us, the first to go were gently worn clothes, coats, shoes and extra bedding. Missions and shelters covet such things. Our books were tougher to part with. Avid readers, we’d envisioned a wall-to-wall library complete with sliding ladder, but our cottage would only accommodate our very favorite reads. The day we discovered e-readers was transformative.

Photographs and artwork by family members went with us. I’d periodically swap them out, a bit like a museum that rotates its collection on display! Because storage is at a premium in micro kitchens, small appliances were replaced with multitasking gadgets, or not replaced at all. Nightstands doubled as dresser drawers. We added closet organizers, lots of hooks, and my cedar chest became our coffee table.

While deciding whether a possession would be moved into the cottage with us, one simple question determined its fate. “Where will we put it?” This was the litmus test for beloved trinkets and furniture alike. One piece of furniture caused quite a dilemma, but it also taught me an invaluable lesson.

For years, I’d grown up hearing my dad promise to fix the old black teacart that sat in our kitchen. Because it had come from my grandmother, I’d had an affinity for the fragile old thing. As a young adult I’d acquired the teacart, and for nearly thirty years we moved it from house to house all across the country. The wheels were broken, the veneer was peeling, the pins were gone, and the thing wobbled and tipped. My husband had promised to fix it, but he never got around to it. When my cousin saw the teacart in such disrepair, he also promised to fix it, but instead he moved away and the teacart remained.

When my kids were small, I felt the need to protect Grandma’s teacart, so I kept it tucked safely in a corner, away from their rambunctious play and Hot Wheels. By the time our younger son had grown, the teacart had become a liability rather than an asset. He promised to fix it for me too, but then he got married and started a family and had repairs of his own. I propped the teacart behind a couch to protect our grandchildren from getting hurt on the splintered old relic. When the time came to decide what would go to the cottage and what would not, I wasn’t sure the old thing would survive the cut. I mentioned my dilemma to my dad.

“Then why try to move it?” he asked.

“Because I don’t think I can bring myself to leave behind a family heirloom.”

“Heirloom?” he chuckled. “Are we talking about the same teacart?”

“The old black one of Grandma’s that sat in the kitchen.”

“That never belonged to your grandmother, honey.”

What? Was my dad’s memory slipping? “Dad, I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

“The broken teacart belonged to a neighbor of my parents,” he explained. “The old guy died before he could fix it, so your Grandpa promised to fix it for the wife. But then Grandpa passed away, so your grandmother brought it to me to fix. Before I got to around to fixing it, we lost Grandma, and then the old thing ended up at your place. Never was a very good design. Cheap veneer, too, from what I recall.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but I’d learned a life changing truth that day. Memories are not made of things, but of relationships. Lives are not connected by objects but by stories about those objects. Appreciating family heirlooms can be a wonderful thing, but allowing possessions to possess us is not. The next day, I called a local charity that helped recovering addicts repair donated items to sell at a resale shop.

“Sure, lady,” they promised, “We’ll fix it.”

I prefer to believe they kept their promise and the old teacart found a good home. But in the eternal scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. The Bible reminds us to lay up our treasures in Heaven, as everything else is just hay and stubble, no matter how sentimental.

The adage “less is more” proved to be true on our journey to a simple life. We have a big family that enjoys getting together, and many out-of-town friends visit often. Our solution for overnight guests? Sofa-beds, air mattresses, and sleeping bags. Our cottage was tiny, but we packed everyone in, often bursting to the seams with love and laughter.

During a record-breaking snowfall, we bought a Jeep. The following spring we adopted a rescue Lab. I wrote while my husband tinkered in his woodshop. Simplicity is what we’d yearned for; richness is what we were bestowed.

~Julia M. Toto


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