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Hereditary gene—something to be passed on

While going through some storage boxes looking for my seasonal witches’ hat to wear this Halloween Eve (I figured while I had the broom out to sweep the porch, I might as well finish the look), several of my mom’s old Halloween decorations from the 1930s resurfaced. There was the traditional 2-foot long, boney, cardboard skeleton, and another of a long, jointed red devil that she would hang in various unexpected places, the inside of the refrigerator or closet door were two of her favorites; also a honeycomb paper pumpkin that was usually the dining room table centerpiece, which would remain there through Thanksgiving. And the prize find: three small, cardboard lanterns that had thin paper inserts on all four sides that boasted scary figures of witches, cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, and even a winged-goblin. When a candle was placed inside and lighted (and watched very carefully), the shapes would throw large, grotesque shadows on the walls. Seems these are now coveted collectors’ items. At the time Mom bought them from the local 5&10 store, they probably cost no more than 10 cents apiece, if even that.

I have placed the lanterns in my front window and, if I can find the small battery-operated lights I bought for something else last year, I’ll have them glowing and casting eerie shapes that will complement the cobwebs already in place.

Finding odd and forgotten items at unexpected times is not unusual for me. It’s something that has been passed down from generation to generation in my mom’s family. Sometimes, the item that is unearthed is something I’ve never even seen before and had no idea even existed! It’s just a remnant from some former family member who stored it away, because she, or occasionally a he, was sure “it would come in handy sometime,” or “was too good to throw away.” It’s in our hereditary gene pool.

The old family home was packed from the basement to the attic, with overflow in the back hall and barn, of accumulated and assorted items going back at least three generations and maybe four. The contents provided a timetable of history through past decades.

Among the catalog of by-gone days were cross-cut saws, a cobblers’ shoe mold for repairing soles, a hand-cranked wooden washtub, several washboards, a glass jar butter churn, wooden coffee grinder, metal ice tongs, large stone-crocks, a wicker baby-carriage that had seen better days, and even a kapok-stuffed life jacket from WWI and a more up-to-date WWII wooden ammunition box from the Small Arms Factory in St. Louis.

There were book of Green Stamps and Eagle Stamps, grade and high school report cards, numerous old catalogs, magazines and calendars, some dating from the late 1920s, along with letters and greeting cards hand-written in ink in the best Palmer-penmanship, boxes of time-blurred snapshots of and from long-ago family members and friends; none of them identified!

There were old woven baskets with holes in their warp and woof, countless bottles and jars, some empty, some filled with gruesome looking matter that could have been either foodstuff canned eons ago or some abandoned science project.

Along with the odd assortment of old clothes, shoes, suspenders, long-johns, baby clothes and partially filled baby-books, you’d also occasionally turn up the petrified carcass of a long-deceased squirrel or other rodent. Did I say we were a family of savers?

I felt that after I had a large auction when I moved from the old family home that that I had broken the family trait or curse, depending on how you looked at it, but it seems to have followed me to my present home as well. Hence, the re-discovery of mom’s 1930s Halloween decorations.

This compulsion to save and store what most people would consider junk or rummage is hard, if not impossible for those who believe in “everything in its place and a place for everything; and if it doesn’t have a place get rid of it.”

Only those of us who come from a family of savers can tolerate it, even though we don’t understand it either. Even stranger though, is our compulsion to marry people who are border-line OCD. We feel it is our mission to convert them and experience a great sense of satisfaction when we find our husband’s ratty, old school sweater tucked away in his shirt drawer.

Janet Douglas

Janet Douglas

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