Sunday, January 3, 2010
New Years day I sat down to a gorgeous-super-delicious turkey “linner” single-handedly prepared by my sweetie, then I kissed my family goodbye, peeled a sobbing Ellie off of my leg with promises of a hurried return, and walked out the door. I was abandoning my post -- leaving Guy with a table full of food, sink full of dirty dishes, and four (two crying) children. I tossed my bag in the car and headed for LA.
It was time to go through my mother’s things. Though mom has been gone eight years, all but her clothes had remained untouched, her perfume on her dresser, her robe on the bathroom hook, her toothbrush in the drawer—until the summer a year and a half ago when my dad fell. In a frantic weekend my sister and I packed boxes, my brothers loaded a truck, and mom’s and dad’s things were put into storage. Dad is now doing pretty well after many moves to find the best fit for him, and it was finally time to bring some of his things out of storage. The rest, well, the rest had to be dealt with.
I went to LA with some anxiety over what it would be like to see mom’s things again. And not knowing how well dad would cope with parting with his precious “stuff” (he was a product of WWII, a time when they saved gum wrappers and string), I imagined my four siblings and I might have a very long couple of days ahead of us.
Regrettably, the first box we opened was from mom’s bathroom vanity. Her dusty perfume bottles and tired little decorations, mixed in with half used containers of shampoo and baby powder. Dad picked up the baby powder and began asking which of us might be able to use it. I took in a deep breath and wanted to go home in that instant. It was just going to be too hard. There were at least 60 boxes, and I feared he would not be able to part with anything. I shut the box and found one filled with old phone cords and outdated computer software and tried again with him, and this time it went better. He let go a little.
We spent hours, one box at a time, sorting out his life. We kids began to chat and laugh and remember moments from our childhoods that were connected to the hundreds of objects we excavated. Dad often looked overwhelmed, but along the way he managed to somehow realize that he couldn’t keep all this STUFF. Candy dishes, mugs, cassette tapes, shoes, Christmas cards, Tupperware… it all started to blur together. Soon I couldn’t even see my mother in these things anymore. A dish I had used a million times as a child, that had always had mom all over it for me, was just a dish. I imagined walking through a thrift store and seeing it on the shelf, then passing right by.
Along the way, though, certain very special objects sang out from their boxes, “Hello! Remember me? Wasn’t I fun? Aren’t I ridiculous? Keep me! Keep me!” We would lift them out with a laugh that caught the attention of the others. “No way!”, “Let me see!”, “I remember that thing!”. The object would be passed around, a “do you remember the time” story on someone’s lips. We would show it to dad, and he would say, “Yard sale.”, and soon someone would smile and say, “If no one else would mind, I’d love to have that.” The funny thing was that for the most part, everyone had a different connection with these things, and no two felt exactly the same about any one object. Even if we did, it was easy to let it go, knowing it would not wind up on a thrift store shelf somewhere.
At first, I didn’t really think I wanted anything but a Thanksgiving decoration I remembered from my childhood, but then I saw a funny little frying pan that brought back a flood. Why that silly thing, I don’t know, but I claimed it, and soon we each had a little collection of things. A few times I would find something that overwhelmed me, and unnoticed by the others I would bite my lip and weep a little, having a “do you remember?” moment all of my own.
When mom’s kitchen boxes were opened, things got almost exciting. We realized aloud that so many of our memories of her were around food. We each kept a browned loaf pan that had made a thousand loaves. I got the mixing bowls that my brother called the “barf bowls”, Kenny took the cookie jar, remembering the million times he’d been caught elbow deep in it. “Listen!” he said, as he rattled the lid and we all smiled. Next, Zack found Mom’s rolling pin, it’s handles bent slightly from the pressure of her hands on them for so many years. It rattled and I said, “Listen!” Zack shook it to reproduce the familiar sound, then rolled it up and down on his belly. In that moment I could hear another sound that wasn’t there; mom’s rings clicking against the wooden handle as she rolled out pie crust. I could see her flour dusted hands and taste the salty dough.
The last boxes went quickly, and we were finished early. We loaded trucks and cars, each of us with our treasures, and closed the storage unit door.
Dad seemed OK. Not great, but OK. His desires for what he would take with him had been very practical; church shoes, hair clippers, an iron, a frying pan, his movies, a rain coat and all of his books. He passed on taking decorations, “My place is small”, he would say. He wanted photos, but not too many of the precious things he had held on to for the past 50 or so years. He seemed resolved. His time for gathering was passed. His needs were simple; food, shelter, warmth, comfort. Books.
We headed home, I with far more than I had either needed or intended to bring. Things.
I pulled into the drive at 1:30 AM, exhausted and relieved. My sweetie was waiting up. Christmas had all been put away while I was gone, and the house looked fresh and open.
The New Year is here, with all it may hold. I usually welcome the New Year with gusto, hoping to shake off dust of the past year and not look back, but I feel differently right now. I feel like holding some of the past for a bit, both mine and my mother’s, and carrying it with me into this New Year.
Here’s to looking forward.
Posted by Laine at 3:15 PM