The Things I Love
Years ago, when I was just starting my working career, I rented a tiny apartment from a very nice older couple.
These folks, Mr. and Mrs. Manchester, were really old. I mean, they must have been the age that my husband and I are now. But of course, that made them very old indeed to me at the time.
They had a lovely old house with a detached two-car garage in their backyard. Years before, the husband had built a studio apartment over the garage for his own mother, where she had lived for many years. After she passed away, the apartment stayed empty for quite some time, and eventually, they decided to rent it out.
They rented it completely furnished with all the old woman’s things – which was perfect for a young person like me who had nothing. There were furniture, pots and pans and dishes, a vacuum cleaner and an ironing board and iron (I love to iron, by the way… I really do.) The tiny kitchen had a two burner stove and a bar-sized refrigerator. But that was perfect for me, since I ate mostly canned ravioli and hotdogs.
I had a very-low paying but promising job that had taken me eighteen months to find. As an English major, my office skills were sparse, but I knew the alphabet. I could file and type. And the small nonprofit I worked for did not have a big staff, so they were happy to get someone with good brains, who’d work for peanuts. And it wasn’t long before they encouraged me to acquire some business skills – by paying my tuition for an MBA.
In the meantime though, I had plenty of nothin’ and was happy to have a pot for my ravioli and an iron, even if it meant I had to wash my hair in the old claw foot tub.
And my landlords were generous and kind and smart. They left me veggies from their garden in the summer and cleaned the snow and ice off my car in the winter.
I often stayed for a cup of tea with the missus when I stopped by on the first of the month to pay my rent.
Their house wasn’t fancy but it had a warm well-used kitchen, good furniture (including a baby grand piano) and some interesting art in all the rooms.
One day over tea, I notice some beautiful plates on display in the dining room.
“Those are really lovely,” I said.
Mrs. Manchester aid, “Thank you. They are very old family heirlooms. They are precious to me.” She added, “Do you see that the one on the right has been broken and glued back together?”
“I see that now,” I said.
“My grandchildren broke that piece three years ago. Knocked it off the wall.”
“What a shame.”
She laughed. “If my own kids had done it I would have strangled them. But when it’s your grandchildren, you say, ‘Oh, that’s okay, sweethearts.’ And you get out the glue.”
“I guess so,” I answered doubtfully.
“I thought my heart would break,” she said. “But it didn’t.”
Years later, I surprised myself by becoming rather a business success. I eventually got myself a beautiful condo and lovely expensive furniture, including some antiques. I acquired fine dishes and crystal and a few good pieces of art.
Of course, I had to clean the snow off my car myself, so there’s that.
Also eventually, my adorable sister had a bunch of adorable kids, and my nephews and niece became an important, loving part of my world.
Mostly I visited – and babysat – at their place, which was childproofed in every inch of every room, of course.
My place was a bit more fragile.
But I loved having the family over. When I wasn’t working like a maniac of course… which was most of the time.
So there’s that.
And one day when my family had come to visit, the kids were playing in my spare bedroom and there was considerable noise emanating from that direction.
My brother-in-law frowned. He said, “I worry about all your beautiful things when we come here. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t visit until the kids are out of college.”
And I thought of Mrs. Manchester and laughed – like she laughed when she told me the story of her family heirlooms.
“Oh no!” I said. “You – and the kids – can come anytime. You are always welcome here.”
“But what if they break something precious?” he asked.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I love my things. I really do. But you know… my things don’t love me back.”
My heirlooms. Only one set loves me back.