Excavating a Home: An Archeological Dig, Part Four

I took time off from the dig to create gifts for my sisters from my mother’s collections for craft projects. Box after box of pressed leaves and flowers, unfinished batiks, feathers, beach stones and shells and driftwood. In one box was this note of forgiveness in my mother’s hand for having more ideas than follow through:

Like my mother, I throw a lot of mud; I understand her. I inhaled the forgiveness for both of us.

I had the gift idea before I found this note in another box.

But when I uncovered the details of her idea, I knew this was a way to honor her, to follow through on one of her visions. I Googled how to get the wax out of batiks and then cut three pieces from the roll of several unfinished designs I found in the cupboard wrapped around a gift wrap tube. (I recycled two boxes full of cardboard tubes, by the way). I gathered three shadow box frames—two newly purchased and one from an undone idea of my own—and cannibalized three found frames for glass to hold the the leaves and flowers in place inside. Armed with a hot glue gun and her shells, rocks, and stones, I made my creations, taping Mama’s notes to the back. One is on my wall, my sisters received theirs under the tree; Rebecca was a little teary. I hope Mama is pleased.

I also made a collection for her #4 great-grandson, the budding naturalist. I saved a vintage velveteen-covered box from the collection of small boxes—a Lactopine bath oil label on the bottom, which of course I Googled: “Swiss Pine, mmm it smells divine.” I lined it with cotton and placed some delicate treasures inside. Adrian was enchanted.

As I clean out my mother’s collections in the basement room, I find myself divesting of my own stuff upstairs—along with Mama’s things I had left there, because I might use them, or because there was room there and the storage room was having digestive issues. Now I open a drawer or a cupboard to get something I need and remove things I don’t. I add several small Pyrex baking dishes to the thrift store box, throw away socks I never wear, and put more books in the box for the AAUW sale. I’m losing weight every day.

In full disclosure, in times past when I did a bit of “sorting” (not to be confused with casting out, though I sometimes did and was always busted), I occasionally found something I loved and rescued it from its cardboard tomb. Like these pitchers, which now live out loud in an open cabinet in the kitchen.

After the snowy holidays, I venture back to the site, moving on to the open shelves of boxes. Believe it or not, this is not my first stab at these shelves. I had to make room to add more stuff during the upstairs clean-out a couple years ago.

My last post on these pages garnered requests for the glass Amtrak mug, the 1967 unabridged dictionary, and the retirement hardhat (the latter to the #1 grandson). Now, if anyone would like the vintage floor lamp or the reupholstered rocker . . .

I begin with the bottom shelf. My mother’s collection of pictures torn from magazines and old calendars for collage projects is even bigger than mine, and I think of it in a plastic drawer in the workshop over the carport, wondering if I should add hers to mine before I dump it in the recycling box. But I need to add mine to hers, not vice versa. I do neither. I need to stay focused: one room, one corner, one shelf at a time.

Behind the collage box is ANOTHER box of driftwood and shells. I could start my own beach. I’m beginning to love finding them, though, they are easy to dispose of. The hardest part of this very challenging task is my reluctance to add to the landfill. Not everything can be recycled, reused, or repurposed. That may be part of why my mother didn’t do this task: she simply did not know what to do with it all.

So great is my landfill resistance, that I have a box of things to put in the garden. Someone in the future can put it in the landfill; or maybe it will get buried and become part the earth, dug up in another archeological dig.

Hardest of all will be things with sentimental value, and for now I am avoiding those boxes, saving them for sisters’ time. But they will have to be dealt with at some point, and my chest gets tight. What does one do with the artifacts of one’s past? And of the evidence that there was life in the family before birth? And of creative work lovingly made?

But, back to crafts. I move up a shelf to fabric. The quilting years. My mother sorted the collection, sort of, which helps. I go through it all, tossing the tiny scraps into a bag for textile recycling, making sure the cotton and cotton blends are all in one box. I send a message to the local quilting guild. They would love to have it for quilts they donate to hospitals, the kidney dialysis center, and homeless shelters. Score!

Finding places that really need stuff is the best part of this task, and I’m getting pretty good at it. My daughter-in-love says she will take the pile of felt squares. (I have a rather large box of stuff she has agreed to take; my daughter will kill her, and me, if it ends up at their house and not in her classroom.) I hope I can find a place for the large box of velveteen and corduroy other than recycling.

I pull out a shirt box of leaves placed in paper towels between the pages of a 1976 Better Homes & Gardens magazine and a 1977 Time Magazine. Are you kidding me? It’s not until I find another box with the beginnings of a project that I understand her intention, if not exactly her visualization. A nature quilt.

I put it all in the proper relocation boxes, but save the snowberries. I rather love it.

Last up on the third shelf is silk screening. Mama did love that art, and completed several scarves (they are in another box), using both commercial and homemade dyes and leaves and flowers for stencils. There is a box of unused silk to find a home for and several practice pieces. I save the peace dove.

Moving to the bottom shelf, I open the proof of another passion: patron of native arts. For most of my life in this house, I was surrounded by Native American basketry, mostly created by women of the local Chehalis Tribe, but also from Nations in the southeast, the southwest, and Alaska. She also purchased exquisite needlework created by the Laotian refugees who briefly settled in town. These are things I have no idea what to do with, but know recipients must be chosen with great care, holding her respect for the artists and for their work.

That’s enough words for today. Next up: fashion! I end the day loading three boxes of books into the car of Mama’s friend, Donna, for the book sale. Today I will go boldly into the pouring rain to deliver the box of quilt fabric and take another shitload of paper and cardboard to the recycling center. Making progress and feeling good about it—if I keep the doors on the wall of cabinets closed and ignore the fact that none of the books came from the floor to ceiling bookcase at the foot of the stairs.

Second shelf is my mother’s “paper,” 100+ 100th birthday cards, photo albums, scrapbooks, and stuff saved to put in scrapbooks, and stuff from my father’s desk. Sister work. And next up, that huge trunk. What is in it? Stay tuned.

7 thoughts on “Excavating a Home: An Archeological Dig, Part Four

  1. What an adventure. Your mindfulness in all of this is amazing, I know I would have far less patience. I loved “I could start my own beach” and I think you could also start a garden and build a house and decorate a forest! I have nothing nothing nothing from my mother or grandmother, they kept nothing – just a few handwritten recipes that I love. Your mother’s handwriting was so reminiscent of my grandmother’s. You could also start an Etsy store and sell it all to appreciative buyers. But it sounds like you have enough projects for now…

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    1. You are so kind. I did start my own garden; keeping it up, and now faced with rebuilding may just prove too much. Maybe I could turn it into a beach. As challenging, tedious, and exhausting as this current project is, I am grateful for it. I wonder if my determination not to leave a lot of stuff behind is cheating my children. But, they do have my blog posts. Haha. 1400 WordPress posts in nine years, plus however many from the blog I had on Blogger before that. Hey, people in Uzbekistan read it! (eye roll) Write on, my friend.

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  2. I love that this is such a mindful excavation. I think of Dorothy’s house and how whoever it was left to must have hired a company to go in and clear the contents. A life reduced to landfill. I know this is often tedious for you to do but I hope it helps to know it would probably make your mom so happy to know you are giving it such care and thoughtfulness as you go. Onward through the clutter. And when you look back someday, may the reward be great and run deep. 

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    1. It is sad to think of leaving it for strangers with a dumpster, tedious as it is to go through it all. Today I found two quilt tops my grandmother “and her family,” according to my mother’s note, pieced; and another she did as as a teenager. That puts it at somewhere around 1900-1910. Jo Ann wants the latter, thank goodness. I’ll have to find a place for the older ones. I think it would make her happy, and chagrined that she left it to me. I’m glad to be writing about it, and taking photos. It probably won’t be a memoir (think “They Left Us Everything,” but maybe something, at least for family.

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  3. Better than me. At least hurricane Harvey’s floods took care of the many family photos from my mother’s home. Leaving two boxes of empty frames, not sure where to donate them. Have lots of beads left from the 5 years of long distant caregiving. I lugged beads and made simple necklaces to keep my hands occupied. Once the bathrooms are finished with remodeling, my excuse to be lazy will be over and i will need to continue donating and moving stuff out.

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    1. Oh wow. I don’t know if I feel sad for you about the photos, or envious. I have taken many frames to thrift shops, both in the current foray and in past ones. There are many more. I have a bag of beads for the re-create shop in Seattle. My family lives not too far from it again, so I will get it there one day. There will be additions to it, I’m sure. It doesn’t sound like you are being lazy, what with bathroom remodeling! We carry on. There have to be breaks.

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