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I helped a friend move last night.

She had her belongings in a storage unit in one end of town and we needed to get them to a condo on the other end. We drove through those long cinderblock storage unit lanes with nondescript aluminum doors identified only by numbers - behind each one could be the belongings of a life, stored for a multitude of reasons.I thought of Thoreau's comment in "Walden" about the burden of our belongings, how we carry them on our backs, refusing to leave anything behind, creating a load that weighs us down, often pinching our spirits.

Maybe so, maybe not.

The diversity is endless: an unpainted bookshelf, a cardboard box of long-playing records, white lawn chairs, a television with plastic wood grain finish, a mountain bike with a flat tire, a sofa piled upside-down over a long chest of drawers, a lamp, a coat, a sugar bowl.

We pulled the sharp-edged, tinny, awkward porcelain square of washing machine up the walk of the condo and through the front door on a thin-lipped handcart. It irritated me how the hoses kept falling off the side and dragging, dripping little puddles of water like a severed artery. Soon enough, however, it would be functional again. This was a new place of beginning.

I thought of how we come into and go out of each other's lives - and even if we never see each other again, our separate experience continues on in our own separate consciousnesses. The wash has to be done, groceries brought home and furniture re-arranged. The view from the window changes, but the new view is unique to our own new place of being. And life goes on.

Somehow, the stuff we collect becomes the definition of who we are. This is especially true in a time when there is so much stuff to have. It piles up. We drag it around. And when we die it is divvied up, some of it kept to become somebody else's stuff, and some of it thrown away - like albums of old, unidentified snapshots scattered to the wind.

Isn't it odd how few objects are passed on as heirlooms, how many dressers, chairs and china dolls go unclaimed from one generation to another, through junk shops, antique shops, swap meets and garage sales with dozens of unrecorded stories trailing them?

I would think there would be at least one stone axe, or a bag of charcoal from Lascaux or Altimira surviving, about which someone now might be able to say, "This charcoal was used by my great-great-etc.-etc.-grandfather in a cave in France to paint a musk-ox on the side of a wall. Before I die, I'm supposed to give it to you along with all the stories my dad told me, and you're able to pass it on to your boy."

It seems that more heirlooms would survive than do. Figuring an average of four generations per century, a mere 20 passes of an object would put it older than Columbus. Is there anybody out there with an heirloom of any personal relevance that goes back any further than one or two generations? And if so, how far back?

I'd be interested to know, so I can share it. If something really unique shows up, I'd like to tell about it here and do a drawing of it.