A HOUSE FULL OF WINDSORSSometimes you come across a novel that reminds you of your own personal proclivity (and to better explain: a tendency to choose or do something regularly; an inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.)

Those who regularly read my posts, know that I am quirky in some ways, one of them being that I have an interest (a slight passion?) about all THINGS BRITISH. But especially the Royal Family, the Windsors.

And most of you know that this started because of my name, which led me to read British history as if I were preparing for a Master’s Thesis, all while being encouraged by close family members who visited England and brought me memorabilia; all while discovering it was meaningful to cut articles about the Windsors out of newspaper, or save magazines with photographs, ask for books about their lives and watch royal weddings on TV.

My family didn’t mind too much, because if they questioned me on this rather strange proclivity, I could always say it’s just another way of learning more about HISTORY. 

But then, along came…


Because the Internet connects you to people you would otherwise never meet, and thus connected me to Kristin Contino, who when it comes to this particular proclivity, this love of the family of Windsor, certainly has me beat.

Kristin’s many trips to England have been recorded with numerous photos. And when a major royal event was about to take place, she and her family once again made the trip, finding a spot near Windsor Castle and able to be up close and personal observing the pageantry of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. After that, I knew I’d found an even more ardent follower of the Windsors…but that event was only the beginning….

Kristin has a reproduction of a bright red British Phone Booth in her home, not to mention those items which all of us seek out when celebrating the royals: tea towels for weddings; tea cups and plates; photos and books. I have a few. (See some of mine below.) Kristin? She’s the QUEEN OF COLLECTIONS. 

And then the final example of her passion, the arrival of Contino’s novel: A HOUSE FULL OF WINDSOR, a delightful story whose main character, Debbie Windsor, falls in love with a member of the landed gentry, Alan Percy—and whether it’s being enthrall to London or Buckingham Palace or her love for Princess Diana and everything royal, Debbie collapses into the arms of this tinged with royalty but not so gentle man—and bloody hell, she gets pregnant. First with Sarah and soon after, with twins!

But later, we find her back in the good old US of A, her marriage over, yet her desire still for all things royal filling up her house. Debbie has become a hoarder. She lives in a house full of windsor. And because she now has trouble navigating her rooms because of the overflowing bins of British mementoes, her three children know that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

Will Debbie find a pathway through her living room? Will Sarah, who provides the reader throughout the novel with her Sarah Says tips, have the answer? Maybe so, as her first TIP encourages readers to be ready for company, but then immediately acknowledges that in her family, “dirty secrets are best swept under the rug.”

I’m sure Kristin Contino had fun writing this book. Her photos of her trips to England, her love of those red telephone booths are testament to that. The novel is light-hearted and from page one presages a happy ending. Her characters make predictable decisions so that everyone is jolly and red-cheeked with happiness in the end. And the novel is clever, the hoarding is real, because when you’ve fallen in love with the photos of the Windsors and Princess Diana, it’s understandable that you might go for cheeky Alan, that rotter, who chases birds (that’s British slang for girls)—but in the end decides that bloody hell, you better let your children help you out so that life is cracking again.



Why Do We Keep Things?

Why Do We Keep Things?

This is artist Arthur Lidov’s interpretation of the mighty mitochondrion. It’s a two page spread and I took a photo of the pages with my iPhone.

A jewelry box with a child’s name bracelet, a few baby teeth, drawings in a 3 by 6 inch notebook done in the 7th grade—why am I keeping these things? I asked myself that question many times when we recently downsized. But I kept everything except the baby teeth. And often I regret the haste in which I divested our bigger footprint of wedding gifts, linens, and furniture. Oh, I wish I had that or why did I give that away?

Amy Goldman Koss in her article When in doubt, throw it out? writes about recently cleaning out her parents home and being relieved that her parents followed that rule. But the question mark at the end of her piece underlines that even after she had disposed of her father’s tools and her parents coats, the image of those coats side by side in a closet somehow haunting her–there was a pang of loss.

We can’t keep everything or we will be hoarders!  But maybe there’s a fine line between those of us who keep every edition of the daily paper and those of us who keep old Valentines and college notebooks. (Guilty) Certainly there’s the element of I MIGHT NEED THAT AGAIN. After my teaching career ended, I saved every mimeograph sheet and lesson plan until a flood in our basement ruined them. That was all right, new tech had replaced mimeo anyway. But it also destroyed years of letters my husband and I wrote to one another and precious old books my mother had given me. But you know–you can’t take it with you.

Possibly we save things because something is going on in us on an unconscious level. That’s the only answer I have for saving much of the 1962 series on the human body that appeared in Life Magazine in 1962. I was a sophomore in high school, taking biology with an amazing teacher. She had us researching DNA, the spiral helix and Watson and Crick. We had to travel to the public library in downtown Chicago to do the research. All of it–the research, the intense writing to get an A–might have planted a seed in me that didn’t bloom until I went back to school in my forties to study anatomy and physiology, medicine–become a nurse. But I still have those pages.

Why Do We Keep Things?

I really didn’t know how important Watson and Crick were in 1962. Not many people did.

To expand on the above idea, we can collect things, hold on to things with various intents in mind.

  • Usefulness. When clothing is no longer ready for prime time, I keep some of it for my daily walks or for gardening. There isn’t a tool on this earth that my husband hasn’t examined and thought that it might be good to have. And for many years he was absolutely right–though often a particular tool was used maybe once, twice?? But it was handy.
  • Sentiment. Keeping things is similar to assembling a poem or creating a tableau. Every word in the poem and every item that is arranged on the table or every photo hung on the wall or placed in a photo album or stored on a computer carries some meaning. Note: those valentines? Cut them up and make a collage. You’ll have the memories, and also more storage space.
  • The great reveal. This concept is more a slippery slope. Amy Goldman Koss doesn’t mention finding anything shocking when she cleaned out her parents’ house. I found a few things of my mother’s very early life–dance cards and a photo of a gentleman I didn’t know. But that’s okay–it was her life and for some reason she wanted to keep  a talisman of those times. It certainly wasn’t the reveal in Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County, when after her death, Francesca reveals her profound love affair in a diary that her adult children find. Great stuff for fiction, but maybe not for everyday life.

This topic of things in our lives is not new to Boomer Highway. I have written about gifts from my grandmother, pictures on the walls of my home that keep alive the precious stages of my life. And I wrote about the angst of downsizing.

And though objects remind us of past experience, it is knowing and holding close our personal history that keeps us grounded. That’s truly what we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. The words and actions of those we love provide us with our best memories–an amazing vacation, a mother to daughter growing-up chat, the day Dad gave the ultimate driving lesson or grandma welcomed her first great-grandchild. These are only a very few of the highlight moments in life. Photos, entries in a diary, or just the pure and simple memory in one’s mind–these are the most meaningful things to keep. After all, they are marks on the timeline of our very lives.

Why Do We Keep Things?

This is part of the LIFE MAGAZINE cover. Note the date and the price!