They auctioned away my memories

June 18, 2013

Capitalism reduces everything and everyone to a commodity, writes Cindy Klumb.

IN 1990, I decided to go back to school. I enrolled in Pratt Institute's Masters of Fine Arts program. When I left Kentucky, I thought I would only be gone for three years. The things I didn't need on a daily basis I put in storage.

While in graduate school, I met someone and conceived a child. My son was born shortly after graduation with some health issues, so I stayed on in Brooklyn. Eventually, I got a job at Pratt and have been working there ever since.

Because the things I left behind were my connection to my life before New York and my family history, we paid thousands of dollars to store these items for more than 20 years.

My oldest son (who still lives in Kentucky) and I rented the storage unit at Sam's Stor-All in Mount Washington, Ky., a little over 15 years ago. Before that, we rented a unit at another location.

We would take turns paying for periods of time, depending on who was in better shape financially. If he couldn't pay, then I would and vice versa. In March, I asked him to pay for a couple of months because I had a high tax bill and the renewal of my car registration in back-to-back months.

Some things were going on in his life, and he never paid the storage bill. Many years ago, I had arranged for the storage company to call me any time the payments got behind. My son said he had also asked them to call him and remind him if they didn't get a payment. No phone calls to either of us.

My son had given the storage facility a second address at a friend's house in Indiana. When he got two months behind, they sent a certified letter to that address instead of his real address. Even though someone else signed for the letter, they proceeded with the sale of my belongings on May 18.

Long story short, my life and my legacy had been sold for a small debt, even after years of paying thousands of dollars to the storage company.

My life, my family history, the legacy to be handed down to the next generation were bought and sold like a cheap commodity. My connection to my past in Kentucky, my connection to my ancestors, up for auction with little or no consideration for the person to whom the items belonged.

EVEN THOUGH I know this is different, I feel the same desperation and despair as a person digging through the rubble after a storm for a few small items to reconnect them to their past. A part of me has been stolen from me, and I will never be able to get it back. All I want is a chance to recover a fraction of what was lost.

My artwork pre-Pratt, my great-grandfather's oil and watercolor paintings, a handmade ceramic doll an older cousin made for me before dying from cancer a few years later. A cedar chest containing my baby shoes, my oldest son's baby shoes, christening gowns, letters, scrapbooks, my high-school memoirs, my college yearbook, diaries, letters, all the small things that defined my early life. All these things mean nothing to the people who bought and sold my personal treasures.

There were some antiques that have monetary value, but there is no way to measure the sentimental value that each of these had for my family and me. Among these items was the anniversary clock from my grandparents' mantle that was given to them as a wedding present.

My earliest holiday memory was looking up in awe at Rudolf's blinking-red nose (a ceramic deer with a red light bulb for a nose) that adorned our home every Christmas. As a child, I listened with my grandfather to his collection of Big Band 78s--they are now gone along with an old floor-model radio that he listened to during the Depression. My grandparents raised my brother and me from an early age, and they have both passed on.

There was the grandmother's clock that belonged to my great-grandmother who died when I was six. There was the century-old couch from her living room. Braided rugs and afghans handmade by my other great-grandmother lost forever. She died at the age of 103--just weeks short of 104--a few months after I moved to Brooklyn. Both were major influences in my life.

My Picasso--granted it was a limited edition wine bottle with one of his lithographs for a label but I treasured it. Fortunately, I brought with me to New York all of the family pictures and some jewelry that was handed down to me. Every time I remember another item and the person attached to it, I break down and cry.

All of these were important to me--not for their monetary value, but for the stories behind them that connect to people who are no longer a part of my life. That connection is gone, and I am mourning those people all over again. My dreams of the day I would share these stories with my descendants the same way they were shared with me--gone to the highest bidder.

Capitalism has finally done it--stripped me of my humanity. It has reduced my life to nothing more than a cheap commodity, to be bought and sold like any other commodity. It is bad enough that we have to daily sell our labor power to survive, but to have your humanity sold the same way is beyond disgusting.

All I feel right now is overwhelming anger. Anger at a system that reduces everything to a commodity. Anger at the people who participate and profit at another person's expense. Anger at a system that protects the exploiter and not the exploited. Anger at a system that objectifies people and strips them of all that makes them human.

To the people who bought and sold my legacy, I hope there is a Hell, and you spend your eternity in the hottest part.

For the people who are reading this, the next time you tune into Storage Wars, remember this--those storage units contain more than just stuff.

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