Silver Spoons and [Aluminum] Tins

After spending a week with The Dowager Duchess (my mother) at her apartment, I am pleased to report that I did not return to Sevilla with any of her old Tupperware (the worst of which has already been thrown in the trash). I did, however, return with incredible art supplies (water color crayons, water color pencils, and artist’s markers); a fuzzy, nubby, zippered sweatshirt The Duchess bought more than 10 years ago in San Francisco — even though it was my size and not hers — because she was cold; a dreamcatcher keychain she received as a gift for a donation she gave to a Lakota Sioux school in South Dakota; and a sterling silver spoon with a windmill (that actually turns) that my uncle Harry gave her more than 30 years ago to give to my sister (who had a silver spoon collection).

I was thrilled to have the art supplies.  They are all either unused or barely used.  The Duchess bought them for various art classes over the years and then didn’t enjoy the media.  The sweatshirt fits me perfectly and is a deep, rich shade of green.  I wore it several times while in New York and I wore it today in Sevilla.  It will get great use.  The silver spoon is charming.  The Duchess suggested I could sell it (as if I could find someone to buy it).  The keychain is interesting.  I’m sure someone in Sevilla will enjoy having it.

My mother doesn’t easily get rid of things.  Her apartment is loaded with stuff, more stuff than Jerry and I ever had.  Art supplies; fabrics; yarns; books; stitchery and creativity magazines; projects from art classes; stacks of paintings and sketch pads; polished and unpolished rocks (my parents were rock hounds); polished rocks mounted in jewelry settings; sea shells (buckets and buckets of seashells); photos (in albums and loose, dozens and dozens of loose photos propped up on shelves); a mortar and pestle collection.  It makes me a little crazy. So, now when she offers me things, I usually accept — if only to get them out of her house.

Around 1999, I was sitting with The Duchess in the bedroom that is basically her crafts and projects room.  She looked around and said, “Oh, I really have to start getting rid of things.”


Ten years earlier, in 1989, a couple of years after my father died, Jerry and I took The Duchess and my brother to South Dakota with us to visit Jerry’s family.  In Mitchell, South Dakota, at the Corn Palace, my mother bought a burlap sack filled with individual bags of microwave popcorn.  She gave each of her sisters and her brother one bag of microwave popcorn.  She kept the empty burlap sack for herself.

In response to The Duchess’s comment that she needed to start getting rid of things, I grabbed the burlap sack from where it lay on the desk and, tossing it into the little garbage pail, said, “Well, you can start with this.”

The Duchess flew out of her chair, pulled the sack from the trash, crushed it to her chest as if she had just saved its life, and gasped, “No!”

I looked at her incredulously and asked, “Why not?”

She said calmly, “I might be able to use it for a project.”


So, I gave up.  Until a little over three years ago.  The Duchess was in the hospital having been hit by a car when she was crossing the street to catch a bus (her sisters were furious with her for taking the bus and not using her car service, but I suggested that she could just as easily have been hit crossing the street to meet the car service).  It was a frightening time but she was an amazing patient and was also fortunate to recover after two months of hospital and rehab.  While she was at her worst, and before and after visiting hours, I spent a lot of time alone in her apartment. The only thing that kept me sane were phone calls with Jerry, until he joined me — and obsessively cleaning and organizing her apartment.  I cleaned closets and cabinets, I dumped musty old linens and army blankets, and expired medicines and canned goods.  But I did not throw out that burlap bag until she was well enough to give me permission.  She did, and she also gave me permission to get rid of a lot more, although not as much as I would have liked.


Since the early ’70s, The Dowager Duchess has been saving tins of all sizes (from candies, from chocolates, from teas, from cookies and shortbread).  Some of the tins are quite nice.  Others look like, well, tins that held candies and chocolates and teas and cookies and shortbread.  Most of the tins line the upper shelves of two hutches in the bedroom I use when I visit.  The remainder are atop the hutch in the “crafts room” (the room Jerry uses) or scattered here and there around the house.


A few years ago, I counted the tins — I suppose just to be a bit of a smart ass.  There were 87.  There may be more now; she may have added some without telling me.  Those tins make me crazy.  She has gotten better about getting rid of things, but (admirably, I suppose) she insists on donating everything to local charities rather than just taking things down to the trash in the back hall and letting the neighbors who like to pick have at them.  Out of respect, I behave myself and do not sneak any away with me to discreetly toss.  It’s tempting. I always feel like they’re going to hurl themselves down on me while I sleep.


Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

22 thoughts on “Silver Spoons and [Aluminum] Tins”

  1. That was great! I especially like the "attack tins". The one in the middle looks like it is partly off the shelf, ready to jump. You are very patient with your Mother – keeping things that she wants, even though they have little or no value. I'm not sure I would have that much patience. Glad you are safely back in Sevilla.

  2. Our parents! Don't you wonder at times where you came from? But we love them, don't we! You're Mom would love to wonder around our basement! Great post Mitch!

  3. Before you go throwing away any of the tins go onto Ebay. Tin collectors would have a wonderful time in your Mom's home. (Love the sweater)

  4. I have enjoyed your trip, and your posts as of late have given me a bit of the holiday spirit.
    Really sweet of you to share those memories and thoughts, and the internet will be a much better place now that your mom is here I think!

  5. I am so the same way — my hoarding is (or was) of bits of turned wood, old spindles from chairs, old table legs, the odd carved drawer front. Now that I'm designing only for one chamber opera (ie. small productions) company, I'm disciplining myself to let some things go.

    one of Fritz's Aunts was a world traveler and she collected spoons. W found a cache of them in a carton of old family stuff. There are perhaps 25 of them, exquisite workmanship, and in great condition. When I last checked, they were going for an average of $35 apiece on eBay.

  6. Peter:
    I also do (well did) it with certain things. We've been down-sizing for several years, but this move required a major purge. So, now I'm a little obsessed with down-sizing. I could have a field day at my mother's if set loose.

  7. Will:
    My mother had sheets of wood paneling and rolls of kitchen linoleum (since the '70s). My father used to cut up the wood paneling and my mother would paint miniature oils (mostly still-lifes). I have no idea what the linoleum was for. She actually asked me to get rid of those items before she returned from the hospital. I was elated.

    $35 a piece! Well, I guess that little spoon is not going to change our financial situation one bit (or maybe it's one-of-a-kind handmade by Rembrandt himself for the king and worth $2.5 million). I can dream, can't I?

  8. Theaterdog:
    Thank you so much, as always. As for the internet, the jury is still out. The Duchess was unable to "compose" in email after the first day. She wasn't interested yesterday in working with me over the phone to get it figured out. Tomorrow is supposed to be our first skype video call. If I prayed… I would be doing so now.

  9. Sounds as if the Dowager Duchess is a woman after my own heart. I too am an archivist. I have no intention of getting rid of anything, isn't that what heirs are for? They need to do something to earn their inheritance. hehehehehehe

  10. FDeF:
    The Dowager Duchess has never been to a Cracker Barrel or I'm sure there would be some random crap snatched from the table (but not the gift shop). But, you're right there's a lot of stuff, and some drawers are a bit cluttered, but it's not a hoarder's nest.

  11. Rosalinda:
    The Duchess will be happy to be referred to as an "archivist" and she'll also agree about the inheritance. But how hard do I have to work for 87 tins?

  12. Travis:
    A car service is like a cab company or private taxi service, but they use (usually) unlabeled cars, no meters, and you don't (again, usually) hail them on the street. You have to phone to reserve one.

  13. Jeff:
    It wasn't as bad when my father was still alive (but he stashed a bit, as well, just in smaller spaces). He died in '87 and my mother still hasn't gone through his overstuffed night table cabinet (she went through his closet a long time ago because she needed the space).

    And didn't Rosalinda make it all sound so much better by describing The Duchess (and herself) as an archivist (as opposed to a hoarder or junk collector)?

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