Marsha, I sent you Grandpa’s shaving cup and razor for several reasons. Like so many touchstones, it’s just a cup and a razor. But it’s also personal and practical, something to connect me to a past that I romanticize with abandon. If Heaven had to be chosen from moments on this Earth, I might very well choose a summer in the early 70s with Grandma and Grandpa. Being poor wasn’t something I thought about then. It taught me that all the possessions in the world can’t replace the feeling of being loved, even if in a way that isn’t soft and fuzzy.
Bonnie trusted me with the shaving kit a few years ago. I wouldn’t have sent it to you a few years ago. You weren’t ready. And I know my saying so won’t hurt your feelings or open old wounds. I didn’t send it to you because it holds no value for me. As one of the last remaining sentimental things I own, the opposite is true. Everything is temporary, even the people and things we cherish. I don’t love the cup less than I once did. But I also don’t want to hoard and clutch something closely that might touch you in the same way it did me.
Each time I picked up, it was easier for me to flash back 50 years and almost smell Grandpa’s aftershave. He was a simple man, at least by the time I came around. Nostalgia sometimes cripples me when I get into memory mode, trying to recapture details or moments. But even if I don’t get the details right, nothing can rob me of the feeling I had when I was around him. Whether we were watching Kung Fu on the little black and white tv, sitting on the porch swing daring the yellow jackets to approach, or while I was splayed out on the floor with my play pretties while he watched baseball…I didn’t appreciate until I was much older that while Grandpa was no hugger, he gave me more affection than my parents did for the first part of my life. He didn’t raise his voice to me, nor his hands. If I needed to learn that a razor blade was sharp, he’d gruffly tell me to be careful – but didn’t tell me not to touch it. He let me swing an ax that was beyond my capability, bought me nails to drive needlessly into everything in sight, and handed me a sliver of his cannonball chewing tobacco, letting me decide whether I liked it. He poured me coffee when I was four, let me stand beside him when the tornado weather approached and told me to stand still so that we could watch for an unseen animal in the cotton fields. He taught me that four-legged animals were rarely as dangerous as those of us walking around on two. He tried to tell me stories of the war, of riding the trains like a hobo, and many others; Grandma would shout at him to stop. I remember hardly any of those stories, but I can still feel the Monroe County sun on our legs and smell the creosote of the porch steps baking.
I am hoping the feeble power of words that I possess can give you a glimpse of how much it meant for me for Bonnie to send me Grandpa’s shaving kit. The cup is a mercurial, mystical object. It looks like an ordinary thing. But that’s the magic of memory, love, and longing. We imprint onto things that remind of us of the people we loved and who loved us.
May it serve you well or in moments where you get distracted by life’s events that aren’t really important. Or when you feel yourself tempted by old habits. Grandpa was afflicted with many of the same torments that made your life difficult. But he ended up toward the end of his life living a simple, uncomplicated life devoid of the temptations that discolored his adult life. That’s something to be appreciated. If you end up with nothing, yet have a life with even a single person who loves you, it’s a good life.