Hankies and Old Cheese


The cheese was an experimental piece my mother painted in 1969 using mixed media and collage. I believe it was the only time she did such a thing; a departure from her body of work comprised mainly of still lifes, landscapes and the occasional abstract. And though it hints of a political statement, I’m not sure of the intended message, but my mom was opposed to war and even zip codes, so I’m sure she used a culture of establishmentarianism to craft the cheese.

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This canvas of the Holey Swiss has been aging for forty-nine years. I recall the cheese hung in the living room above the red velvet love seat, centered among another fifteen or so other of my mother’s paintings on the tallest wall of the vaulted room. The cheese originated in Stamford, CT and has spent time aging in Midlothian, VA, Jupiter, FL, two locations in Burbank, CA and three locations in San Luis Obispo, CA.

I’m now faced with a conundrum which is putting my extreme purging to the test. Do I move the cheese to Panama to honor my mother’s artistic expressions and preserve a thin slice of my history? And if I don’t take it with me because it’s not exactly my taste in decor, how does one find a home for sentimental old cheese as opposed to severing attachment and dumping it off at the thrift store?

And the hankies - hundreds of them! Dainty, lacey, white, hand embroidered, silky, shimmery, patterned, playful, holiday themed, monogrammed hankies. Some were even my grandmothers that I kept when I packed up my mother’s belongings after she died because they meant something to my mom. And I wanted to keep anything of hers within my grasp so she didn’t slip away.

It’s easier to part with the hankies, though I will keep the sheer white one with the pale blue hand stitched script, Dorothy. And I may have use for a few hankies in Panama to dab my dewy cheeks from the humidity in a tropical climate. And they’re so small, really hardly take up any room at all so I could easily bring them and . . . .

See what happens? It’s a slippery slope.


What exactly will I carry with me into my brand new chapter to keep it fresh and not be a stale re-reading of other character’s past history. Do I really want to bring the stinky old cheese? I didn’t miss the cheese while I was gone for eight months driving around the states in the RV. I probably haven’t thought about the cheese in many years. I don’t feel guilty for not thinking about it, so why do I feel a sense of obligation to keep the canvas just because my mother painted it? I feel like I’d be disrespecting her memory, her artistry, by discarding the cheese.

There are some things I’m sentimentally attached to but am finding meaningful homes for them, like my rocking chair I loved as a little girl. It will go to my 3rd cousin who has a fourth birthday at the end of March. But for the life of me I cannot think of a suitable home for the cheese.

Some of the other paintings I’ve taken out of their frames and removed the actual canvas, staple by staple. I will either roll them gently or package them flat with acid free paper. But the cheese is crumbly and likely won’t tolerate the jostling of staple removal.

Sometimes I think I hold on to these things and pictures as anchoring place-markers to my past. When I see and touch canvases my mother painted, the slippers my father wore, the judo trophy I was awarded when I was eight; they bring me back to a place within myself that is my own home. No one else would know this landscape - just as I do not know other people’s inner portraitrature. Maybe I’ve been holding on to things in fear of forgetting who I am, who I was and what experiences and ephemeral moments impacted me.

But perhaps it’s time to trust myself to recall the delight of blowing out birthday candles on a pink and white frosted cake, proudly yet cautiously holding up crabs found by the ocean’s edge, riding a pony at the Stew Leonard’s market in Norwalk, CT and posing for countless Christmas card pictures with my brother, Brad and our dog, Happy, and cat, Scamper.

I am the sum of all parts of my past. And if I can’t remember how each ray of sunshine or blade of front yard grass felt upon my skin in any given moment, I’m still me. Everything, whether I can recall it or not, has wrapped me in my life’s canvas, patiently developing the complex flavors of my very nature.

And yet, knowing that, really deeply knowing and believing what I’ve just stated, I still don’t know what to do with the crusty cheese from 1969.