Working With What’s Found by Catharine Bramkamp

Working With What’s Found by Catharine BramkampLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “Working With What’s Found.” Enjoy!


Many books and memoirs are launched the moment we unearth a letter from 1889, or a painting by a cousin we never met or discover an historical photo that launches us into months of research, conjecture, and the perfect novel.

This was not one of those discoveries.

It could have been.

The Suitcases

My mother stored suitcases tightly packed with table linens. Her house sported purpose built shelves layered 3 deep with collectables, every closet was stuffed with boxes bulging with things three generations stopped using two generations ago, but no one could bear to toss.

Which means we also found packed boxes still sealed by packing tape from 1975.

Black tarnished silver trays, wrinkled fine linen handkerchiefs, set after set of incomplete hand painted china, molting fur coats. Every dresser drawer was rigged to explode at the touch of a handle.

What I was really sorting through was three generations of indecision. No one wanted to be responsible for tossing the one item the future would find indispensable.

During a zombie apocalypse perhaps we can rip the fine linen tablecloths into bandages, or use them as tents. Doomed, but classy.

The Photograph

WomanWhich leads me to this photo with this attached note:

Paul Bramkamp, Lynn’s uncle, had a friend or maybe Carrie Bramkamp had a friend named Peter who was an artist. We have several things of his — I don’t know who this woman is.

Julie Bramkamp 8/18/07

Can this portrait of a woman we don’t know become a signifier, a symbol or a character in a story? Maybe.

Not a single thing my mother saved inspired a story, or at least more of. story.

What it did inspire was a black mood of overwhelm and obligation, which itself could be a story, or a character, or just another trip to the dump.

But that doesn’t need to be your experience.

What to Do With Your Parents Stuff

What you can do as a responsible artist is to honor all the stuff from your parents, even grandparents, but don’t save it. This is particularly important to embrace if you cannot save it: the house needs to be sold, the parents need to move to a smaller place.

The answer is to take photos. Your motivation at the beginning can be pure sentimentality.

Later, the photo can inspire your art.

When you come across a box of broken glass plates marked Throw Out (true story), take the photo. Recycle the glass.

Our first response to a home decorated and accessorized in Late Relative is to clear it out or even torch the place.

Don’t do that, but do take photos of anything that snags your attention.  Make a couple of notes. Save it for later.

If you’d like, you can label the file – String – Too Short to Use.

But do label it.

Your mother’s going away honeymoon suite may inspire a whole character or historical novel — or the table cloth used as a tent, or a signature on a Ellis Island manifest.

All that crap can be helpful. But we don’t need to dust it, or even keep it around.

I took the photo, wrote the blog inspired by the photo. But never did identify the artwork by “Peter.”

New Book! The third in the Sexy at Sixty series, Sunk Cost, will release end of July! Go to for more updates! (Also Amazon.)


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Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, former co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back. She delights in inspiring her readers.

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