Saving for keeps: Thinking of things worth holding onto, more or less

  • Son Dylan Opitz, who left California on Aug. 25 as the CZU Complex fire threatened his home and business, is quarantining in Easthampton. Phil Doyle

  • Son Dylan’s van and trailer at the evacuation center at the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds in Watsonville before he set out for Massachusetts. Contributed

  • The writer's drawer filled with mementoes and small treasures. Phil Doyle

For the Gazette
Published: 9/5/2020 12:17:45 PM

Save v.  saved, saving, saved

 To rescue or keep from harm or danger.

Keep v. kept, keeping, keeps

 To have or to hold and not let go.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

These are some things that are saved: money, time, effort, lives, souls.

I currently have a drawer that houses things that have no place in my life, but yet cannot be discarded. This is what lives in this drawer: 2 small plastic bins of photographs, most that I took with my Brownie camera but some from albums long since disintegrated, and a Hohner Golden Melody harmonica that belonged to my mother.

There is a porcelain painted basket that was gifted to me by my mother — it had belonged to her longtime helper, Catherine Foster. Catherine gave the basket to mother as a gift and it had originally belonged to her grandmother, who was born a slave.

There is a small round holder for a communion wafer; my father’s stuffed rabbit — given to my mother by her mother-in-law, Joanna Daly Boss; a red, green and white hand-knit Christmas stocking that says “Susu”; tiny red canvas sneakers (baby shoes, Jennifer, 49), tiny blue boots (baby shoes, Dylan, 45); a black belt made from apple seeds gifted to me by Mark Sean Finnen (deceased); a white green and maroon hand-printed cotton scarf from India; three handmade ceramic pieces, 2 marked J.O. and one marked Dylan; 2 circa 1920 clutch purses, one green-and-white beaded, one shiny gold (from Prentiss Phillips O’Toole, my maternal grandmother).

There is a flowered ceramic keepsake box. It contains notes in my mother’s handwriting, a Baltimore Oriole feather, and my mother’s driver’s license. There is a sterling silver stamp dispenser that sat on my father’s desk from a time when stamps came in rolls and were licked. There is a wooden box with a picture of my 2 oldest grandchildren dressed for Halloween on it — inside there is a shell necklace from Mother’s 75th birthday in Florida, a finger puppet of an Indian god, a Super Mom pin, a breast cancer survivor pin with the number 3, a red breast cancer pin that says “care, be aware,” a painter’s palette pin from Jane Peterson’s funeral, a small ceramic penguin, a Colossal Pictures pin, 2 blue poker chips, a roller skate tack, a small ceramic figure of one of the 7 dwarfs, a 10-cent piece from Canada, a button hook found in the wall of our house, 4 hair pins and 2 safety pins.

There is a ceramic bell with a bird painted on it, a small stuffed red bear with white hearts gifted to me by my teaching colleague at the Leverett Elementary School, Alison Ellis, and the 1st grade on the occasion of my hysterectomy; an orange wooden painted snowman sculpture signed Mary, 2006 on the back; a class of 1966 Holy Name School diploma; my Girl Scout Troop 234 sash with too many badges to count; Pius Readers Tenth Guild certificate from Ursuline Academy, 1964; all of my expired passports, lots of report cards from this school or that; and a picture of my paternal grandfather, Eugene George Boss, in his christening gown.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks and my thoughts crystallized upon hearing that our son, Dylan, had recently been forced to flee the house in Boulder Creek, California where he had been living to escape an oncoming wildfire.

Dylan had noticed that an ash layer was forming. This made him concerned. He hitched his trailer to the work van, encouraged his housemate Ann-Marie and her daughter to gather some things, and they left. Thirty minutes later the neighborhood was evacuated.

Since then the CZU Complex fire has burned 85,218 acres. Ann-Marie, James and Susannah’s neighborhood has sustained extensive fire damage. At last report their home was still standing. Dylan left California on Aug. 25 and started east with his van and the trailer.

Just past Denver, the motor in the van blew and the van and trailer were towed to a truck stop. Dylan found a one-way truck rental, disposed of the van and made arrangements to store the trailer. He moved his tools, clothes and books to the rental truck and resumed driving. He is currently quarantined in Easthampton awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test.

What would I keep under that very stressful situation?

Not necessarily in order of importance, I think I would keep my husband, dog, keys, wallet, phone, charger, glasses, address book. With a few more minutes I’d add pillows, blankets, dog leash, dog food, water, underwear and socks, flashlight, toothbrush. There is nothing in the drawer, although too precious to discard, that I would risk my life for.

I am thinking deeply of all the people in harm’s way who have lost everything they own. May they keep their sense of humor, their optimism, and their happy memories.

“Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

These are some of the things that are kept: secrets, health, time, memories, the faith, hope.

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