birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Not Keeping

I recently parted with two keepsakes I had treasured for many years: my grandfather's baby rocker and the child's ice cream parlor table and chairs my father and his siblings played with. The rocker was fashioned of golden oak and had a pressed back panel featuring a puppy and a kitten. Its arms were attached to the brocade seat with delicate turn spindles. When I was a child the rocker always sat by a window in my Grandmother Kimmel’s house and later found a corner in my family room.
The table and chairs were located on my Grandmother Prentice’s screened porch when I was little. My brothers, cousins, and I often played there. It was a good place to color or eat a snack when we were visiting Mimmie. Then it disappeared from my view for many years but resurfaced in my parents’ Arizona home where they had made a second retirement move in their 80s. Clearly my dad treasured the little table and four chairs. For a time, he had only the table and two chairs. But somehow, he persuaded his older sister to send him two chairs she had in California. He had the rusty metal parts dipped and repainted and fashioned a new wooden top for the table. Mom arranged her precious china dolls around the table, ready for a tea party complete with tiny cups and saucers. Ten years later when my parents moved to an independent living apartment, there was no room for these antique toys. The dolls were sold on eBay and the table and chairs took up residence in my garage waiting for another generation of children to arrive.
They waited a long time. So did I.
Finally I accepted the reality that no one in my family would ever sit in one of those tiny chairs or draw at that tiny table. I didn't want to sell them or give them to Goodwill I wanted them to remain in the family, but my brother had no children, let alone grandchildren. Finally, I thought of Lethia, my cousin Mary's daughter. Although in her early 40s, she has two small children. In fact, I kind of knew them from Facebook: a girl and a boy, Zinnia and Thilo. I sent Lethia an email offering the set and she wrote back enthusiastically. She was, in fact, almost ecstatic. Mary had told her about playing with the toy furniture when we were children. Lethia even had a sepia photo of her grandfather, my uncle Bob, wearing a baby dress and stockings sitting in one of the little chairs. With Pak-mail’s help, I shipped everything off to Louisville where it arrived to oohs and aahs a week later. Half a problem solved.
Finding the rocker a new home with a thornier problem. My grandfather and mother were both only children. No cousins or second cousins once or twice removed were waiting in the wings to claim a family heirloom. Such a shame, too, because it was nearly 120 years old and still in good condition. After we moved four years ago to a smaller house, the rocker didn't have a satisfactory home. It gathered dust in my basement. As I begin making plans for yet another move, this time to Maryland, I determined I would have to find a new family for it. Most of my friends’ grandchildren's were quite grown up, some of them already in college. It was a puzzlement. At last I settled on the perfect caretaker for the rocker. My friend Inge has two grandchildren, a boy, age two and a girl, age one. I knew their father from his time in my classroom and I felt like I knew the children from their pictures on Facebook, of course. Inge's house, a stately red brick Italian Villa dating from the 1800s, is the perfect setting for the antique chair.

Giving away these keepsakes was joyful. Not keeping them was hard. Almost as hard as accepting the reality that I would never be a grandmother.