When I moved to Nashville in the summer of 1988, I brought a piece of Kansas with me. Both of my grandfathers farmed wheat fields, and each had given me a bundle of wheat from their harvest that summer. I combined the two bundles and placed them in a tall bucket. It looked really cool.
Now jump forward to present day, over 20 years later, and I still had that bucket of wheat. Spiders, cobwebs, and all.
I manage to avoid even considering getting rid of the wheat. It swallowed a lot of floor space in our front room, and I really didn’t give it the cleaning attention it deserved. So it finally dawned on my little brain that I didn’t need the entire bucket to remember my grandfathers. A few select stalks of wheat could display nicely in a shadow box which could be kept spider-free. Sounded like a brilliant plan, so I gathered a trash can, the wheat, and began selecting the stalks to keep.
As I shoved the first few broken stalks into the trash, tears started to flow. The next minute, I was bawling. My college stepdaughter, Anne, asked if she could help me in any way. I was as surprised as she was at how much the process was affecting me. I invited Anne to stand there with me—just to be nearby for support. I sorted out enough wheat to give to my brother and sister, and kept some for myself. The remaining stalks were forced into the trash while I cried.
Why hadn’t I done this before now?
I was avoiding pain.
I knew I might be faced with a flood of memories—the loss of both grandfathers, and my homesickness for Kansas. Avoiding the wheat protected me from remembering, shielding me from feeling the loss and separation all over again. Even in the act of reducing the amount of wheat, I seemed I was throwing away my history, getting rid of my memories of my grandparents. At one point I told Anne I felt like I was throwing away Grandpa.
Purging a possession from my past forced me to revisit a sense of loss. An inanimate object had the power to pull forward ancient emotions—emotions which came tumbling into the present moment with the same intensity they’d held years ago.
I marvel at how our minds and emotions grant such powerful feelings to an object. As I jammed the remaining wheat into the bin, I felt I was shoving my entire Kansas history into the trash. That’s what it felt like. But that wasn’t the truth.
The truth is that I still hold every memory I’ve ever had of my grandparents. I remember riding on the combine, and jumping in the wheat kernels with my cousins, all of us tanned and bare footed in the wheat truck. Those memories are mine and will be forever. They will remain whether I have a bucket of wheat sitting in my house or not.
Another reality was that I needed to reduce the size of the spider real estate sitting in our front room. So I chose to face a painful process that only lasted a few minutes.
And now my siblings and I will spend years enjoying the gift of wheat in a shadow box that reflects our summers on a Kansas farm. The pleasures of my memories are intact. I gained a little more floor space in my house. And fewer spiders!