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by on September 28, 2014

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                                                              by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The COMMENTS sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.  Comments that do not specifically address content will be trashed as SPAM.

“Nothing shall seem to me so truly my possessions as the gifts I have wisely bestowed.” Seneca the Younger (5? BCE – CE 65). “On the Happy Life.” (20.4) Moral Essays.

Parting with things came early to me.  One of my earliest memories is of the wild Jeep ride from Rome to the port of Ostia, in December of 1945.  While Americans at home thought WWII was over, the reality on the ground in much of Europe was quite different for many.  My father,  one of the high ranking Italian officers who overthrew Mussolini, was hunted by residual Fascist elements and had gone missing.  My mother, a dual-citizenship Italian-American, was an OSS officer in Rome, hunted by the same elements.  Her immediate superior, James Jesus Angleton, was ostensibly a U.S. Army captain but was in reality the Chief of Station (Rome) for the OSS.  And so it was that, when an extraction opportunity arose, “Uncle Jim” quickly loaded my mother, her English mother, my brother and myself into a Jeep and raced for the port to catch the Swedish ship MS Gripsholm bound for the U.S.   As we careened along the partially destroyed road a poorly secured suitcase flew out of the Jeep and skittered along behind us, vainly trying to keep pace.  I boarded the ship with the clothes I had on and my Italian passport and Birth Certificate, each proudly emblazoned with the Fascist seal – artifacts which would years later bring me grief in trying to get an American driver license in the primitive State of Florida.  

Childhood in the U.S. was a blur of moving; New York to Cleveland, Cleveland to military boarding school in Grand Rapids, Ohio, back to Firenze, Italy, Firenze to Genoa, Genoa to New York-Cleveland, two houses outside Cleveland, and then to Florida.  Schools? Well, that’s another story.

Our move to Firenze,  with an uncertain duration,  included 25 steamer trunks.  My brother and I had accumulated very few possessions;  military school restricted possessions to what could fit in your footlocker at the foot of your bunk.  But my grandparents and mother had acquired large collections of books, authentic Oriental rugs, and original art in various media.  I still have some of this stuff.  In Firenze I had a few toy soldiers.  In fact, when one of them died in battle outside our Firenze garage in 1950, I buried him with full honors.  When I returned there in the late 1990’s I was tempted to try to get the home owner to allow me to find and exhume him.  Requiescat in pace.

One of my mother’s favorite rants was, “I’m going into your room and throw everything out!”  This when she wasn’t threatening to have me deported back to Italy.  I quickly learned to hide certain things in highly improbable places, a skill which would serve me well in later years.  Thanks, Mom.

 My years in the military, and related work refined my minimalist approach to possessions.  “Stationed” at various places, I was constantly on the move, living out of a duffel bag.  That carried through college and grad school, with moves involved there as well.  And, even married with a daughter my personal possessions were slim.  Divorce was interesting; I could clap my hands in the house and get an echo.

In the summer of 1981 my college instructor persona had run its course, and things were heating up elsewhere.  I went into town and bought a used/rare book, antique, and art store, inventory included.  My artist mate and I restructured the store, dumping most of the used books on another bookstore.  She managed the store, took care of the house and our non-human companions, and produced art while I traveled as a consultant acquiring exotic artifacts for the store.  We also used the store to funnel through various items I had acquired in previous years, a sort of high-end controlled estate sale.  We were simply waiting for clearance to come through for the next move.

Did we pack it up when the time came?  No.  She simply had an auction house come in and clear out the store and the house as she was leaving to join me where I had set up.  The proceeds went to a P.O. box.  Our Huskies came with her, and everyone else was placed in a good home.

A few years and some moves later I felt burdened by my wardrobe.  I took several suits, including an exquisite wool Edwardian cut hand made for me by “Mr. Charlie”, my Hong Kong tailor and “left” them in the laundry room of an apartment building filled with people struggling to get by.  Maybe someone got a successful job interview.

Over all those years, and even recently I have looked at various items I have acquired, myself or through inheritance, with the conviction that my daughter and/or my grandchildren would want to have them.  But careful observation and listening continually narrowed that vision until it is all but gone.  Stuff.  What do I know?  I think that phone thing was up to 3G before I quietly asked someone what the hell G stood for.

A good friend of mine has a home about the size of mine, with a three car garage.  Of his cars,  only one can barely fit in the garage.  His entire basement is filled to the ceiling with stuff, almost impossible to walk through.  A mild earthquake would bury the one garaged car.  He has two local rental units, both filled, and a warehouse in another State also filled.

I initially thought he was a hoarder.  But this isn’t any old stuff; it is largely high end, very unusual stuff gathered from “one-percenter” estate sales and exclusive auctions.  He could have kept my store going for many years.  His wife doesn’t know 1/100th of what he has, nor does she care.  His child dreads having to go through it on his death (he’s a few years older than me).  

No,  after examining his purchases and listening to his “this will appreciate in value”, “I got a great deal” pitches I’ve come to the conclusion what I’m really hearing is a deep and profound fear of dying.  I never see him working with or on any of the stuff he has bought.  It comes home, sometimes requiring my help to lift, and goes straight into the maw of his garage or walk-in basement.  I joke with him that burglars could steal half his stuff on Monday and sell it back to him on Friday because he wouldn’t know it was his in the first place. I am convinced this is not the typical hoarding pattern, although it may be a variant of it.  I do think it is some manifestation of a way of trying to nail down future time, as if having stuff to be ready for a future time will guarantee it will be granted to him.     

So what does happen to my stuff after I go behind Door Number 4, and should I care?  I guess relatives will be notified and asked to come through and take what they want.  Sort of a musical stuff game, with the leftovers going to the Salvation Army or Goodwill (insert images of puzzled shoppers here).  No, I won’t be buried with the ceremonial knives made for me by a Berber tribe in North Africa or the huge silver trophy my dog, Vetter, won (spent $300 on restoring it for my daughter, but she told me to keep it).  In fact,  I can’t think of anything I own that would survive a crematory.

An aphorism ascribed to Siddhartha is, “When you want what you have, you will have what you want.”  Makes sense.  And, over time want diminishes.  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had a favorite term for this: Decathection, commonly defined as the withdrawal of one’s feelings of attachment in anticipation of loss.  I do understand the feelings people express after a burglary; partly loss of the items but largely theft of the opportunity to decide one’s own time to be rid of the items.  I was quite urinated when I came down into the parking garage one morning to find an empty space where my heavily modified Austin-Healey 3000 MKIII had been parked.  I almost sat flat on my ass before I could grasp the seat wasn’t there to catch me.  Of course, I re-holstered my semi-automatic, jumped into my other car and drove around St. Louis looking for it.  I have some pictures.  Somewhere.

So one day – or night, the Dark Burglar will come into my real abode, the place where I actually live, and steal me.  And look at all that money I’ve spent going to doctors for restoration, or perhaps to buy more time.  Seems I have more sorting to do.

“A way of life that bases itself on materialism, i.e. on permanent, limitless expansionism in a finite environment, cannot last long, and that its life expectation is the shorter the more successfully it pursues its expansionist objectives.” E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. 4.5, 1973

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19 Comments
  1. Dana permalink

    Marco, I thoroughly enjoy the blogs with stories of your life. Thank you for providing some comic relief to alleviate the sadness I feel when thinking about “Little Marco” (although in my mind his name is Tonio).

    “…military school restricted possessions to what could fit in your footlocker at the foot of your bunk.” There was a time in my life when I had no idea what a footlocker was (growing up in Canada, I knew this as a “trunk”), but was suddenly forced to find one into which my “life” would fit. I’m thrilled I wound up as a minimalist rather than a hoarder after these experiences, and I imagine it can go either way.

    “One of my mother’s favorite rants was, “I’m going into your room and throw everything out!” This when she wasn’t threatening to have me deported back to Italy. I quickly learned to hide certain things in highly improbable places, a skill which would serve me well in later years. Thanks, Mom.”

    It is interesting to discover where and how we develop what might be life-saving skills. Sometimes I hid things in plain sight, simply to see if or when anyone would notice – and gloated when they didn’t. This probably was not the wisest or safest “game” to play at the time.

    Happy you’re buying more time. Selfish as it is, some of the rest of us aren’t ready for you to go behind Door Number 4.

  2. Thank you so much, Dana. I was a bit worried it would be too dark. You bring to mind the example of the candle, and how we can light an infinite number of other candles from it without losing our essential flame. You truly light up lives, and that ability is the greatest possession of all. Marco

  3. Tany Walker permalink

    I am not ready for you to go behind door number 4 Marco 😦
    I wish I could see you again! You should take a trip to Vacationland Maine haha!

  4. Dana permalink

    Marco, I am especially touched by your words today. Your place in my life is so vital to me that I have difficulty imagining life without. However, I realize I don’t have to.

    I didn’t find this piece dark, and the best memoirs (like yours) have the greatest humor.

    I want to exhume the toy soldier!!

    • Dana. If I ever return there I’ll figure a way to see that you accompany me. Your careful trowel work at the Carter Center gives me confidence. Marco

      • Dana permalink

        Marco, I have thought about your toy soldier a great deal. I’m always sad when I think about how little you were permitted to be a “kid” and do things children do. Yet sometimes I also wonder how much different you would have been regardless.

        To know there is a little piece of your childhood somewhere, and perhaps a happy piece, is comforting, but frustrating! I wonder if you could find a way contact the people who live there today. If I were a homeowner, I would happily dig up my property for something like this.

      • Thanks, Dana. I think I will let him rest in peace. We leave “parts” of ourselves in so many places.

      • Dana permalink

        Of course – you expressed this in the blog. Evidently I just don’t get it sometimes…

  5. I always love to hear/read your life stories.
    They give us a glimpse of adventures, of pain and joy, of restlessness, and even of history … in a way they make me feel I know and understand a little better how your `you` evolved from childhood to this day.
    Must admit they fascinate me and am very grateful you are sharing them with us.

    Now, ““I’m going into your room and throw everything out!” , this is such a typical expression of Italian mothers I had to smile. It brought back memories of my childhood too ! 🙂

  6. I too enjoy your personal stories. Hopefully you will post enough here to one day cobble together a book. “Decathection, commonly defined as the withdrawal of one’s feelings of attachment in anticipation of loss. ” This last move I definitely experienced this, but I don’t think it is in anticipation of loss. It was just to be light. I have lugged so much stuff from my family’s past and I realized it is going to mean nothing to my children. It was the hardest thing I have ever done getting rid of all the treasures, but the hardest were the books. I realized I had hundreds and had never re-read a single one. And of the books, my children’s books were the most difficult. A lot of good memories were held by them. But this feeling of being light, more than makes up for the feeling of loss. One of the best stories of “stuff” left after death happened to a good friend. Her father placed money in every single item he owned. It took her a week to go through all of his belongings. She found over $50,000 in cash. I thought how genius this was. It certainly kept her mind busy. And it made her look and consider every item he had.

    • Thanks, Mary. Your friend’s father also had a way of getting around the IRS. I agree, the feeling of lightness far outweighs the loss.

  7. Despite my own admitted hoard, I still contend that ninety percent of our stuff is just stuff; easily replaced or lived without. The primary issue is that no one but us knows which things make up the prized ten percent. The secondary issue is that those things which are treasured by us may have no value our heirs. My children have already mentally divided up those things which they want to keep; and my daughter has threatened me with resurrection should I go to my rest without clearing out at least most of the rest.

    Sorting is the process and the issue; wheat from the chaff and all that. When my husband was assigned to Germany, we were allowed to take with us only two thousand pounds of our possessions. I guess that sounds like a lot, but when you figure in the packing materials along the other things, it’s not so much as you would think. We sorted out what we wanted to take with us, and the rest went into storage. Four years later, we were reunited with our things, which filled an entire room of our new home with boxes. As I opened them one by one, I found things I had forgotten I owned, but few treasures. If I had known then what I know now, I could have saved the government the expense of storing these things, and myself the work of sorting and discarding them later.

    I’ve always had things I didn’t need, but it didn’t turn into a hoard until we moved here to stay. Moving every few years with the military always took care of that issue as we sorted out with every move those things we no longer needed or loved. I’ll probably never have an empty house, but I am working on it, and maybe someday I will once again have a home.

    • Thanks, Rose. I’m sure one could say that as the end comes more clearly in sight one looks back on stuff and realizes its irrelevance. I don’t recall what my weight allowances were in the military, but I learned my lesson when I presumed having to clear Customs when I in fact did not. Oh, the stuff I left behind.

  8. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    I don’t keep up with your wonderful essays as constantly as I should, but this one is a gem. Nice to know that what I’ve been feeling–“decathection”–has a name. I have far too much stuff–and most of it is just that, stuff–and I am too slowly paring it down; I think for me the biggest barrier to a major sweep is the desire that most of what I get rid of go to a “good home.” Even recouping the cost–formerly a significant concern–has faded in importance almost to the vanishing point. Be steel, my heart; I’ve got a lot of culling to do.

    • Mike. Thank you so much for taking the time. I’m guessing that decathection, no matter what we call it, is something we become familiar with as we age. In candor, one of the more uncomfortable aspects of it is facing up to the reality that things I considered significant are largely insignificant to those whom I thought would care the most.

      • Mike Stamm permalink

        Only sometimes. When my parents left their Oregon coast home for Canada–a rather drawn-out-process beginning in 2005–they hadn’t even significantly packed anything when my youngest brother and I took a week off to help. They got rid of a small amount of stuff that week, and maybe a bit more before they actually made the move (I wasn’t on hand for that), but their big basement has an enormous amount of…stuff in it even now, though they haven’t looked at any of it in years. My mom died in February, and my dad *might* be working on going through it all and sorting out what to do with it…but I don’t know how well that will work out. Some of it probably means more to me than it does to him at this point, but I’m leery of adding more to my hoard.

      • Now you’ve got me interested in trying again with my daughter and grandchildren. I’ve resigned myself to the idea that much of what I might give them would go straight to a garage sale. But, that’s their choice.

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