As the New Year approaches, I have a desire to end the year with less. Through the cleaning and sorting, I have noticed that some items are really easy to let go and others cause great pause. I have this ordinary light brown basket that has been with me since I was a child. I cannot seem to let it go; and I begin to wonder how some of my ordinary objects become so extraordinary.
This ordinary, light brown basket began its life in the late 1970s as a funeral fruit basket. A basket meant to bring comfort to my mother in her time of sorrow became a final link to her brother. My uncle was 22 years old, a new husband and father, when the poor decision of someone else ended his life late one spring evening.
Uncle Jim was the second youngest child in an Irish, Catholic family of five kids in the small town of Austin, Minnesota. Jim was a combination of the traits valued in this family; smart, witty, loyal, and strong, both physically and willfully. He had left home to study at the University of Minnesota knowing the value his father placed on education. Although education was important, four other siblings meant Jim had to work to pay for a portion of his schooling. He chose a job at the hospital because he could work after classes and still get home to help with his infant son. Jim knew the roads around the University were filled with crazy college kids when his shift ended at 11 pm, so he always felt safer walking home. One spring night, as he walked down 15th Avenue between University and 4th Street, a drunk driver jumped the curb and hit him in the back. Uncle Jim was propelled across the pavement in a mangled heap. He was only brought to rest by a bridge railing. He died two days later.
My mother took this funeral fruit basket and gave it new life as my Easter Basket. Once a year the basket would be filled with plastic grass, candy, new Easter socks and maybe a kite or a cassette tape of greatest hits. The other 364 days of the year it would hold my childhood treasures; stuffed puppies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, or books of Shel Silverstein poems. In 1982, it went along as a lunch basket to bring authenticity to my costume during a class field trip to the 1870s Cahill School.
Sometime in the 1990s, I retired the basket that had been a constant of my childhood. Although ordinary, the basket wove my childhood memories among the link to Uncle Jim. Although ordinary, the light brown funeral fruit basket became extraordinary to me. So in 2004, I gave the basket new life. Each year I fill the basket with plastic grass and showcase the hardboiled eggs my little ones decorate for Easter. In the 364 days between, my daughter fills it with her treasures as she takes her babies on a picnic or her puppies to the park. And coming full circle, the basket was once again filled with a lunch for my costumed daughter as she headed to Cahill School to experience life in the 1870s.
I look at this ordinary basket and I see the memories and connections woven throughout. These memories and connections have turned an ordinary, light brown basket into something extraordinary. And although the basket has remained unchanged for 40 years, it has been filled and refilled again holding comfort, joy, memories, imagination and lunch.