The Kettle and the Box

Question: What is the relationship between this kettle and this box?

The answer: a dream.

Remembering a Dream

I rarely dream. In fact, when I had a dream a several weeks ago, it was a momentous occasion for me. It was the first time I had remembered a dream in many, many months. Maybe years, even. As a consequence of that, my wise and lovely therapist recommended that I keep a dream diary. I thought that would be a pretty slim volume, but I did as I was told.

I wrote a description of that dream and then, about a month later, I got to my laptop one morning in time to record another dream. This second dream was about a kettle. Here is what I wrote:

I am standing at my kitchen counter trying to clean the inside of the electric kettle. It is an older kettle and the white plastic exterior is now yellowish. Inside, the heating element is mottled with white (calcium?) deposits. The bottom and about an inch or two at the bottom of the sides are coated with black mold. I am trying to clean out the mold with a cloth or SOS pad. That doesn’t work because it is a small space and I can’t work around the heating element. So, I try using the bottle brush. The mold does not seem to be coming away.

After I had shared this with my therapist she led me down a memory maze, as therapists are wont to do. Her questions triggered a number of tantalizing quandaries that are rumbling around at the back of my mind, but for the purposes of this blog post, I will just stick to this one.

How to Make Tea

This kettle is one that I have had for so many years that I can’t remember when or where I bought it. These days, I mostly use it when a recipe calls for two cups of boiling water. Otherwise, it sits in the back of the cupboard above the fridge, getting dustier and more yellow every day.

In talking about the kettle, I was reminded of the time when my late husband, Geoff, went into palliative care at a hospice. The people who worked at the hospice were lovely and very attentive to Geoff’s needs. So much so, in fact, that it troubled them when Geoff did not much care for the tea they made for him. They tried everything to please his tea tastes. They bought a ceramic tea pot, they bought loose Orange Pekoe tea, they kept a record of how long the tea steeped in the pot, they varied the amount of milk they put in the mug, they tried putting the milk in first, then then tried putting the milk in last. As I say, they did everything they could think of.

I would visit every day after work, and one day one of the women who worked there stopped me to ask what they had to do to make tea the way Geoff liked it. She said “He just keeps saying it doesn’t taste like the tea Anne makes.” At first, I was bewildered. I didn’t do anything special and I told her so. I just put the teabag in the mug and poured in the boiling water. Then I squished the bag against the side of the mug and took it out. I put a little milk in after that. She laughed out loud. She had assumed that, because both Geoff and I are originally from England that we would have some elaborate traditional tea-making procedure involving a teapot and timing. It had not occurred to her that I might have cut a few corners on those traditions. I think she was quite pleased to find that I was, in fact, a tea ceremony heathen.

Memorabilia and Mold

This story brought my therapist to wondering about the relationship between the kettle and Geoff, and the relationship between cleaning out a kettle and cleaning out old memories. You might think this is a bit of a stretch, but in fact I do have this big box of memorabilia that I have not yet been able to sort out or discard.

Geoff first became ill in November 1998 and after a couple of misdiagnoses it became clear that this was going to be a long and complicated process. Every time we saw a doctor we had to explain all over again what his symptoms were and what treatments he had been given. After a while, this became difficult so I started making a list and keeping records. If I had known how long he was going to be ill, I might not have done this so diligently. Not knowing what information I might need, I kept everything. I kept medical records, notes that I took at medical appointments, and information gleaned from medical books at the public library. In addition, I kept Get Well Soon cards and letters from friends and family members, just in case one or both of us wanted to re-read them some day.

I kept all of those things from 2000 until 2006, and they are all in this box. For a while, I thought I might use them to write a book about the experience, but that hasn’t happened. Today I am determined to make a start at discarding and shredding the contents of the box as best I can. The real kettle does not actually have any calcium deposits or mold. It is perfectly clean inside. I think the bad stuff is all in this box, and it has to go.

13 Comments

  1. As you begin this ‘cleansing’ process, Anne, please be gentle with you.

  2. I’m like you and rarely remember my dreams. I always find it interesting when I do and I try to make sense of what I can recall. Someone suggested to me many years ago that dreams are always symbolic and the actual item, person or event stands in for something in our lives, something that needs to be recognized, acknowledged or worked through. The interior world is fascinating. Good luck going through everything. I hung onto artwork I had inherited from Dennis’s estate for several years before I was finally able to part with it. I donated the inherited artwork along with other pieces he had given me as gifts over the years to two organizations for their fundraisers. Several were original works of art, others were numbered prints. It was important to me that there was purpose behind what I did with the art. I’m happy I was able to contribute to these two organizations and I hope whoever eventually received the art enjoys them. When my dad passed away I had to donate all his belongings, which I did to the nursing home where he had resided, plus the local clothing bank. Had we lived closer to each other I’m sure I would have kept a few items. What I did keep was all the paperwork related to his hospitalizations, application to the nursing home, power of attorney, all the correspondence related to his pensions, bank accounts, lawyer, etc. I kept this paperwork long after it served any practical purpose, and it was only last year, eight years after he passed away, that I was able to shred it. It can take time to be ready to let go of things. Even though we know our loved ones are gone, it seems as though there’s something so final about letting go of this last little bit. For me, doing this seems to have given me space to return to genealogy research, which I had stopped doing around the time my dad was first hospitalized in 2010. And I’ve also returned to going through old photos and deciding which ones to scrapbook, which to share with relatives. I created a photo-album for my daughter’s birthday last year, and I’ve reconnected with relatives in the US and PEI who share a love of genealogy. I initially saw having to deal with things as an ending, but it’s turned out to be a beginning. I wish you all the best, Anne, as you continue on your journey.

    1. Thank you for this very thoughtful response, Pat. You have gone through a lot and I admire your resolve in sorting through all the things and paperwork that are washed up in the wake of someone’s passing. It does take time to do those things; not because the actions themselves take a long time, but it takes a long time to get to the place where we can do them.

      Thank you for your good wishes. I wish only good things for you, too.

  3. I think it isn’t a stretch at all and I agree that you’re wise to allow your therapist to explore the significance. I love what Mary Beth said to be gentle with yourself and I might add…it’s OK to take it all to a shredding service in one fell swoop. Unless you’d like to go through the “mold” for some reason, which of course is also OK, it isn’t necessary to re-live that time in order to give yourself permission to chuck it.

    1. Yesterday I threw out eight years of birthday and anniversary cards from the box, but that’s as far as I got. Now I’m beginning to think it’s going to be an all-or-nothing decision.

  4. Interesting dream and I like your analysis. I wonder if you will have a follow-up dream. In the past sometimes I dreamed about an attic I didn’t know I had all full of dusty junk.

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