I’m a bag lady. I’m a stuff person. You know, the kind that always has the big bag and the hands buried in the big bag looking for something or other. The kind that always has an indentation in their shoulder where the big bag (that is far too heavy as far as bags are concerned) digs into the shoulder. The kind that always leaves a trail and is always knocking something over because there’s so much stuff around them. The kind that people are always saying Sheesh! You have so much stuff.
When I worked at the restaurant, the guys in the kitchen used to put things in my bag. Melons and cast iron skillets and bottles of hot sauce. I wouldn’t realize until I got home because my bag was already so heavy and filled with unnecessary things like shoes and bottles and hardcover books. Sometimes I’d be happy because hey I needed a cast iron skillet but mostly I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed. That I walked around with so much that I didn’t notice when someone added their own stuff to my life.
That’s how it is though, isn’t it? When you have a lot of crap it takes a while to notice that more is being added, however slowly. When your life is fairly crap-free (nobody has a crap free life but for the sake of this essay let’s pretend there are people who exist in the world that have less crap-free lives) you notice fairly quickly when something doesn’t belong to you? Hey, this cast iron skillet? Not mine. This guilt? Not mine. This hot sauce? Not mine (but I’ll keep it.) This shame? Not mine. This drama? Not mine.
It’s hard to not realize you have the cast iron skillet before it’s too late. Once you get all the way home with it you might as well keep it right because, let’s face it, it’s kind of embarrassing to come back with it explaining that you didn’t steal it, that someone stuffed it in your big bag and you just didn’t notice. Or maybe it’s not embarrassing and you just want to keep the cast iron skillet because you think you should have one. Maybe you think you deserve one. That’s what we do right? I know it isn’t mine to take on but I’ll keep it because I probably deserve it.
Life is like that. The things we take. The things handed to us that we walk around with as they dig into our shoulder and cause us pain and yet we say No, I’m fine. I got this. I can carry it all. It’s mine.
As for me, I carry around a lot of stuff because it makes me feel at home. Chaos is comfortable for me. I like mess. I’m a klutz and mess suits me! It’s just the way I am.
That’s a lie. I don’t know why I lug so much junk around except that it’s been the way I’ve lived for as long as I can remember. My mother is very organized and neat now (how!?) but when I was little I remember her sticking dirty dishes in the oven to hide them or putting them in a black trash bag out in the yard because she was very depressed. I am going to hold onto to my shit and the dirt and the gunk! It’s like it ran in my family.
I think sometimes that if I carry it all around for everyone to see I will be safe from having to change or move forward. I think if I carry it around I won’t forget. There’s so much I have forgotten. (What did I eat last night? What was the book about I just read? What did Ronan’s nose look like? What did my father’s voice sound like?)
If I carry it all around with me I will forget nothing. At any given moment I can reach for what I need. You think I’m talking in metaphors, I know. I am but I’m also talking in everythings. It’s everything. The shit turns into the shit. The shit on your shoulder turns into the shit on your heart and it hardens and then you can’t scrape it off.
Me telling the truth: I don’t want to scrape it off. I want to remember. I will carry it around forever so I never forget. In a big red bag, I will schlep everything around.
Today I saw an obituary online for a man I never met and it made me all at once miss him (?) and miss my father.
Harry Weathersby Stamps
December 19, 1932 — March 9, 2013
Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013.
Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.
The women in his life were numerous. He particularly fancied smart women. He loved his mom Wilma Hartzog (deceased), who with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron reared Harry after his father Walter’s death when Harry was 12. He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg. He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago, with whom they had two girls Amanda Lewis of Dallas, and Alison of Starkville. He taught them to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President.
He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.
He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on. He loved to use his oversized “old man” remote control, which thankfully survived Hurricane Katrina, to flip between watching The Barefoot Contessa and anything on The History Channel. He took extreme pride in his two grandchildren Harper Lewis (8) and William Stamps Lewis (6) of Dallas for whom he would crow like a rooster on their phone calls. As a former government and sociology professor for Gulf Coast Community College, Harry was thoroughly interested in politics and religion and enjoyed watching politicians act like preachers and preachers act like politicians. He was fond of saying a phrase he coined “I am not running for political office or trying to get married” when he was “speaking the truth.” He also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal–just like Napolean, as he would say.
Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.
Harry traveled extensively. He only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina. He always spent the extra money to upgrade to a creek view for his tent. Many years later he purchased a used pop-up camper for his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life.
He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.
Because of his irrational fear that his family would throw him a golf-themed funeral despite his hatred for the sport, his family will hold a private, family only service free of any type of “theme.” Visitation will be held at Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, 15th Street, Gulfport on Monday, March 11, 2013 from 6-8 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (Jeff Davis Campus) for their library. Harry retired as Dean there and was very proud of his friends and the faculty. He taught thousands and thousands of Mississippians during his life. The family would also like to thank the Gulfport Railroad Center dialysis staff who took great care of him and his caretaker Jameka Stribling.
Finally, the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time. Harry wanted everyone to get back on the Lord’s Time.
I didn’t go to my father’s funeral as I have written about in earlier essays. My sister and I weren’t allowed. It’s a decision my mother was coerced into by some “loving” friend or relative who knew better than she did in her 34 year old grief stricken body (!)
I carry that decision around with me in my godforsaken big red bag on my shoulder. I carry that not being able to go to my father’s funeral on my right shoulder and rarely do I put it down.
So I see this obituary written by a loving daughter and I get kind of mad because I wanted to write one for my dad. But that’s not why I am really mad if I tell the truth and as you know I am committed to ABTTT (Always be telling the truth.)
I am mad because I wanted him to live until 80 like this man in the paper did so I could say funny and endearing things about him that I stashed away and carried in a big red bag for my whole life. I only have 8 years of things I carry around, dammit.
I am going to do one anyway, since I never got the chance and all. Maybe I can put it down after this? Maybe I will unload a bit. (I doubt it. I want to keep this one and keep carrying it around.)
Melvin David Pastiloff April 27th 1945-July 15th 1983.
Melvin Pastiloff, known lovingly as Mel The Jew on the street corner of 6th and Wharton in South Philly where he hung out with Johnny Boy and Sticks, died on a humid night 30 years ago. He was survived by his wife Barbara, who at one point he loved very much, but at the time of his death, had thrown a shoe at and they were planning to divorce. He was also survived by his two little girls Rachel, 5, and Jennifer, 8.
He was known to be a the funniest man in the world. Or at least in Philadelphia and the tri-state area. He loved a good practical joke such as the one time he smeared chunky peanut butter all over the toilet seat when company was over and called everyone into the bathroom to say “Looks like Jennifer, smells like Jennifer, tastes like Jennifer.” Jennifer was a baby then and this story was relayed by said company. He was also known to moon at any public event. He would put his ass in any window to liven up any party.
He loved one particular pair of cut off (ugly) jean shorts that he changed into almost nightly after his day at the job selling fancy men’s suits. He smoked 4 (!) packs of menthol cigarettes a day (wouldn’t touch a Marlboro. He was a KOOL man) and he took his coffee with cream served to him in bed (a tradition carried on from his mother).
He didn’t know how to blow-dry his longish hair or shave so that was one thing that would have been sucky about divorcing but he died so that never happened but just to give you an idea of who he was in the mornings, it’ll get left in here. He drove a brown Cutlass and once hit a homeless man who did more damage to the car than the car to the man (!)
He had a laugh like a sheep and loved the t.v. show M*A*S*H. He liked flounder and waffles with chocolate ice cream and was known for always asking for Jello for dessert after a big Italian holiday meal. He didn’t know where the glasses were kept in the kitchen. He sang You Are My Sunshine every night to his daughters. Sometimes Jennifer first, sometimes Rachel. He had a bad singing voice but a lovely singing voice.
He served in the army and almost went to Vietnam but came home because his father was dying of cancer. He had a bald spot on the top of his head and it was always sunburned. He looked young and old at the same time.
He had a bad back but would sit in the yard and carve sticks for his daughters anyway. Sometimes he would fart and blame it on his daughters thinking it was funny. (It was funny.)
His one regret was that he wanted to be a stand-up comedian and he wanted to meet his grand-kids. He loved hockey and made his daughter Jennifer memorize every team from every city (in the U.S.) He also loved boxing and Sugar Ray Leonard. He smelled like leather. He loved his mother (and her brisket) like a good Jewish son and sadly he had to put in a nursing home just before he died on July 15, 1983.
He was a sonofabitch for dying when he did and pretty much everyone that knew him agrees on that and that they love and miss him still all these years (!) later.
I carry it all around from room to room because if I put it down I might forget.
I will keep carrying my father’s memory. After all, the sonofabitch went and died at 38 so I got very very little, but I will carry it with me always.
I am getting tired though. You would too if you had as much shit on your shoulder as me. (Maybe you do?) I will no longer carry what doesn’t belong to me. Frying pans and someone else’s agony? No more. I looked into the backseat of my car tonight and saw the piles of papers and yoga mats and shoes and straps and wrappers and bottles and I thought Why are you carrying this around like you are afraid if you let it go it will leave you with nothing?
I have all I need. So do you.
Take an assessment of what is on your back and in your car and in your heart and imagine what it would be like to be free of it. Look, if I imagine myself free of my dad’s memory I want to vomit. So thank you very much but I will keep that one. The rest though? The guilt and the drama that doesn’t belong to me or that once belonged to me? Goodbye. I am putting you back with the cast iron skillet and melons that aren’t mine.
What? You think as you get older the weight gets lighter? It doesn’t. It gets heavier and heavier until you are buried in a pile of it and you can’t even reach to the front door to get the pizza from the delivery guy and he’s just out there waiting like it was a prank.
Put it down. Let it go. You don’t need what isn’t yours. You don’t need what you think you need. You don’t need a big bag there on your arm and a houseful of boxes.
What do you need?
Here’s a list I made for you.
Whatever makes you happy.
Whatever makes you happy.
Whatever makes you happy.
I wanted to write it three times for emphasis.
That was the point of the whole essay, it just took me a while to get to it. Go write this somewhere: What makes me happy. Write them down. Carry them if you want. Keep looking for those things.