Excerpts of a memoir by Massachusetts writer Lynette Benton from the 2020 Passager Open Issue.
Massachusetts writer Lynette Benton said that as a middle child she felt that her voice was muffled beneath those of her parents and her siblings. Writing, she said, is a way to be heard.
Here are some excerpts from her essay “Holding On” from Passager #68.
Once a year or so, fire officials in my grandmother’s hometown in Florida summoned my mother in New York to clear out her mother’s house and the vacant lot adjacent to it that
her mother owned. They mentioned fire hazards and fines. My exasperated mother would fly the thousand miles that had liberated her from such clutter and spend a week going through her mother’s papers, sorting clothes and kitchen utensils to donate to worthy causes, and bagging household trash and yard waste.
I personally own no battered boxes of expired pastry mix squashed into kitchen cabinets; dolls dressed in tawdry organdy outfits, reeking of the dry odors of a century ago; or plastic garbage bags stuffed with defective decorations toppling in corners. In my house, there are no narrowed paths winding through debris-filled shopping carts in a “this-way-lies-madness” sense. In fact, my home is neat. Most of my possessions occupy their own nooks. But I have a suspicion (call it superstition, if you like) that if I discarded much of what I own my future would flourish before me, and my life sparkle with the spaciousness of possibility.
But my paring down plans are thwarted by the obligation to keep the likes of outsized casserole dishes and diminutive dessert plates stored in the attic and basement of the apartment I share with my husband, to be unveiled as if by a conjurer’s trick, once a year for the Christmas crowd. Or the slightly-too-large outdoor furniture he and I brought home from the store by stuffing the wrought iron chairs into the back seats and open trunks of our cars. We placed them on our porch where we and our friends eat light summer meals three months of the year, quirky New England weather permitting.
What about the delicate table linens my mother-in-law gave me because she knew I’d use them as lovingly as her own four daughters use those she gave them? Or the photographs of my father’s parents and a great-great-grandmother who had been a slave, in their dignified clothes and poses, all dead long before my birth? Am I allowed to toss them – the only images I have to substantiate the stories my parents told my siblings and me about these ancestors? Do I really want to abandon them to a pollen-dusted driveway at a garage sale or hoist them onto the Goodwill collection truck in the Stop and Shop parking lot? . . .
Think of all we must give up over a lifetime, all we have wrested from us: friends, youth (and its illusions), optimistic ambitions. Is it any wonder we want to cling to material goods we’ve managed, in our grasping First World way, to obtain?
. . .
Excerpts from Lynette Benton’s essay “Holding On” from Passager Issue #68.
Benton leads workshops in the Boston area for writers of all ages. She said, “The teens I teach energize me with their imaginative tales and their intelligence, sincerity, humor, and persistence. The baby boomers and seniors draw me in with their funny, moving, courageous, quirky, and utterly memorable stories. They write novels and poetry, as well as essays about how they and their families prevailed in hard times, growing up in neighborhoods that have all but disappeared, family secrets they’ve uncovered, and most notably the personal stories behind the headlines we all know.”
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