The unsentimental have it easy. Their closets are pristine, their drawers perfectly organized. They hold regular yard sales and are constantly setting things out on the curb with signs saying “Free.”

The unsentimental have it easy. Their closets are pristine, their drawers perfectly organized. They hold regular yard sales and are constantly setting things out on the curb with signs saying “Free.”


I’m not like these people; I am sentimental, if that is the word. A dozen times a day I think of my dead ones.


And I still keep many of their possessions:


The last time my mother came to my house, she placed her cane in the umbrella stand where she could reach for it when it was time to leave – only she never did leave. She died three hours later in the wing chair by our fireplace – and this quarter-of-century later her cane still rests where she set it.


Maybe it’s crazy, letting the past pull on you this way. For a long time I thought so.  


Then one day I walked into the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn., and it was all I could do not to throw my arms in the air and yell, “I’m home!”


That big old steamboat of a place that Sam Clemens built for his family just knocked me out. It is a virtual twin to the house my husband David and I have lived in these 32 years, raising our children and mourning our old folks.


It has the same potted palms, the same ceiling-high bookcases, even a similar sculpture of a standing nude to make it seem familiar. Really though, it was the feeling emanating from every artifact that did the job.


You simply can’t find anything there that doesn’t come with a story attached, as the docents there will readily tell you. Not a single object that didn’t have great meaning for Mark Twain and his wife, Livy.


I love the place because it says so much about that family’s journey, just as this house does about our family’s. For example:


A closet in our back bedroom contains three baby dresses stitched in the 1860s. A wall in our dining room holds a framed sampler made by one of David’s thrice-great aunt in the 1840s. And the whole living room has as its focus a sofa that my grandfather bought second-hand in long-ago 1890. 


This sofa slept for decades in the basement of one family home after another, until, in the early 1980s, I taught myself the art of upholstering and did it over in a dark red satin. When I touch it now I can almost see the past.


I wonder sometimes what makes a person look back and hold on in this way.  


I truly cannot say.


But imagine my surprise when, 20 years after redecorating the living room in this house, I came upon a crinkled snapshot of my first childhood home, whose interior I cannot visualize because we moved from it when I was eight.


For this living room I chose a pale-pink wallpaper, painted the trim and the bookcases white and hired a professional to cover the old sofa in a soft muted blue velvet.


Meanwhile, the crinkled snapshot revealed that the front parlor of that first childhood home had – what do you think? - near-identical pale-pink wallpaper, white paint on trim and bookcases, and a sofa in exactly that same shade of soft muted blue. 


Did I really remember the room then, or see it in a dream? Who knows.


Some human beings are unsentimental, but most, I think, are another way:


Most of us live forward and look forward.


But often we also look back, to see if those absent others are there; to see if they might not be following, hurrying, even now, to catch up and greet us afresh.


Write to Terry either at terrymarottaa@verizon.net, at P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890, or at her blog “Exit Only” at www.terrymarotta.wordpress.com.