Merrill's column details the fires in Malibu, California last year when she had to nearly evacuate her home and grab a few precious belongings to pack in her car. She considers what the belongings she chose to save say about her and her values. She is a deeply witty, self-deprecating writer - my favorite kind! - and her column had me thinking about what I'd take with me if I could only pack up a carload of belongings.
There are the items that must go with me without a doubt - my phone, my Mac, my external hard drive, my digital camera, my IBM laptop (merely because that machine saw me through my two years of graduate school for which I am intensely grateful), my ipod, the jewelry box my mother gave me, a handful of photographs, particularly those of my grandmother and one of my brother, sister, and I when we are all little and playing in my grandmother's backyard.
If there's room, I'd stash all of my books and take them with me though if I can only have a few, I'll take Me Talk Pretty One Day autographed by David Sedaris telling me that he's so proud of me (though I have no idea what for), Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, Three Cups of Tea, my autographed copy of Moving to Higher Ground by Wynton Marsalis, Dreams of My Father by (Future President) Obama, Hotspots published by Conservation International because it was signed by all of my friends there, A Reason for Hope by Jane Goodall, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Orbiting the Giant Hairball from my former boss, Bob Giampietro, who taught me how to thrive in a corporate environment, 700 Sundays by Billy Crystal, and Yoga: Poetry of the Body because one of my very favorite essays, "Winter" by Nina Zolotow, is in there. No fiction book made the cut...hmmmm.....what does that say?
I'd love to bring along my grandmother's rocking chair and sewing machine though that may be a bit ambitious given their bulky size. I'd definitely grab the knit shawl my mom made for me for my birthday, the teddy bear I bought for my grandmother while I was in college (she sat on the couch watching TV with that teddy bear every day up until she passed away because she said it made her feel less lonely.) I'd take the heart-shaped ornament with the word "Sister" inscribed on it, given to me by my sister at her wedding.
My Snoopy Snowcone Machine, in the original box, is a must-have as is a framed painting of a woman dancing with a rose given to me by Kaye Ballard. I'd also snatch the two water colors I purchased in Prague just after September 11th on my first trip to Europe. My poster of Sunset Boulevard signed by Petula Clark needs to come with me, as does the watercolor I painted that is a replica of the last greeting card my grandmother sent to me before she passed away.
Cruising into my kitchen, I'd snag my crockpot, deluxe blender / food processor, and two magnets that read "Be Nice or Leave. - Thank You" and "Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere" (A classic!). Everything else can stay.
Bathroom - not much I'd salvage in here except my Sonicare toothbrush, my Dr. Greenfingers First Aid Kit, the purple vase from my dear friend, Blair, and my birth control (that stuff is EXPENSIVE!)
On my way out the door, I'd grab my black leather jacket, the purse my mom made for me that earns me a multitude of compliments every time I use it, a scarf my friend, Amy, bought me in Paris, my favorite jeans, my lockbox of important papers, the Chinese silk robe given to me by Petula Clark (I've never worn it though it serves as a reminder to me of what a true class act that lady is), my Tibetan prayer beads that hang above my front door, my swimming goggles that I learned to swim in just after my 30th birthday, the tiny birdhouse wind chime my mom gave me when I was in college, and the Coach leather bag I take to work everyday. And three more pieces of art - one of orca whales that I purchased on a solo trip to Alaska, the cloth painting I purchased in Soweto, and the painting of a monster in the forest given to me by the Crayola Factory. If there's any more room, I'll grab my two diplomas - the very small one from Penn and the very large one from UVA. Oh, and my passport.
If our most prized possessions are a reflection of our values, what does this jumbled list say about me? Well, clearly there are a number of strong women who have made a significant impact on my life, particularly my mom and my grandmother. I deeply value my travels and education, and want to be surrounded by reminders of those experiences. I care about the environment. Art is a source of inspiration for me. And when it comes to appearance, I care only about the bare essentials (meaning, I'm most concerned about my teeth. These suckers were expensive and paid for by my Uncle Tom when he footed the bill for my braces. I think of him every time I look at my teeth, which is many times a day!) Technology is a big part of my life, and my life is easily transportable. I value my career.
When I look around my apartment at what would be left after all of my favorite possessions are gone, I see some furniture, clothes, some small appliances. Though not much else, and truly all of that stuff is easily replaced for a very small amount of money. I guess I have weeded the garden of my life, stripping away nearly everything that is not essential. For one thing, I live in a 400 square foot studio. Though more importantly, I did cut back significantly on my possessions after I graduate school because I could only afford to take two car loads worth of items I could carry myself. (Movers and moving more items than that was cost-prohibitive for a recently graduated student moving to New York City without a job offer in hand.) Everything else had to find a new home in Virginia. It was an exercise in taking away all the non-essentials so the essentials could speak, and be saved.
The picture above can be found at http://www.joanwadleighcurran.com/01Possessions_NewOrleans.jpg/01Possessions_NewOrleans-full.jpg