I got back to it this week! This time with my sisters. Jo Ann was here from Virginia and Rebecca from the foot of the hill. We needed a week, a month, we got a few hours. But we made progress! It was fun to do it with them rather than solo.
We went through trunks, barrels, and boxes of our childhood that I left for us to do together, including our early art.
We got bogged down with more old photographs—hundreds of them—Jo Ann added some to her artifacts to keep, I recorded digital evidence, Rebecca said “nope,” some very old ones went into a box for the vintage treasures store proprietor to look at next week (mostly of my mother’s half siblings and their families, people we never met), and most have made their way to the landfill. Which is hard, though many were people we didn’t know, that we had our own copies of, or that were poor quality and shouldn’t have been kept in the first place!
One thing I love about the old photos is the evidence of the decor, fashion, and activities (e.g. the Life magazines beside me on the ugly brown sofa my mother “never liked,” my stretch pants with stirrups, and our familiar places at the table). And again, Rebecca got a stuffed bunny for Easter to take to church, and Jo Ann and I got stupid corsages. Though perhaps at the time they made us feel grown up. Also, Jo Ann got fancy shoes with pompoms on the toes, and I had new saddle shoes—lucky me. Rebecca, of course, is still in the ubiquitous Buster Brown orthopedic shoes children wore back then.
There are bags of crocheted tablecloths, doilies, arm chair covers, and tatted-edge hankies. All unwanted by any of us. My maternal grandmother’s artistry and skill is evident and perhaps never unappreciated because it was so common at the time and so overlooked now—a craft of a bygone era. But my mother kept it all. Imagining my hard-working grandmother, who died blind at ninety-nine, crocheting into the night after her work was done, kind of boggles my mind. Probably some of it was done after her children were grown and her husband dead and she could lay down her burden. I have no idea what to do with it. Probably my mother didn’t either. (Contact me if you want any!)
My favorite part of this whole excavation has been my mother’s notes, and imagining her going through it all, putting things in plastic produce, shopping, or trash bags, and adding a note. And, no doubt, calling each item taken care of, having left it properly labeled for us to deal with later.
I also love the newspaper wrapping and padding in the boxes. This one is special.
The wall cabinet, shown here before I started on it in December, wasn’t what I had my sites set on this go-round, but it’s amazing to have most of it done!
Yet to do, the center and right bottom cupboards, but yay! Upper right shelves hold stuff claimed (for now) and stored (for now) by sisters.
Rebecca made the thrift store/trash run this time, her Outback stuffed to the gills. And there are two trunks (plus) full of items to offer aforementioned proprietor, who will visit next week.
Keep-worthy treasures were few. Though Jo Ann found a good many she couldn’t bear to relegate to landfill or thrift shop. She has the sentimentality I lack. Or perhaps she lacks my practicality—they are moving west next year, she is supposed to be downsizing!.
Still to go, when the big stuff is gone, are thousands more photographs, and oh mah gawd the slides. I added the new discoveries to the legions in the closet under the stairs where I’ve been stashing them. I need viewing technology before I tackle that, though most of them can be thrown out by the boxful. (I really need to go through the nearly 16K photos on my laptop and delete all the ones that have no people in them. I have shared them in context on my blog, they no longer serve a purpose. Maybe a flash drive.)
Also still to do, boxes and boxes of paper: both parents’ calendars, my mother’s notes and who knows what, scrapbooks and stuff for scrapbooks, my dad’s desk and mother’s dresser contents.
When this room is done—at the moment, I can almost imagine we can save the next generation from the task—there is still the rest of the house. And the workshop—at least metal is recyclable.
My mother said she wanted to get the house cleaned out, but I’m not sure actually getting it gone was ever her goal. One can only speculate what going through it meant to her: did she want to put hands on it again and remember? Did she want to tell us stories? Did she want to make sure it was all labeled? Did she want to tell us or leave a note about whom she wanted to have things? What I know is, it was maddening to those of us who tried to do it with her. She told few stories (or we never got to the things with stories), and nothing left the house.
We have learned something in hind site about helping a parent clean out a house. When she asked over the years if we wanted something, we should have said, “Yes! Thank you for saving it for me.” Then taken it from her hands—off her hands. It would have made her feel vital, one last piece of good parenting affirmed. We were then free to do with it what we wanted, and it would have been out of the house. Maybe she labeled so many things for one of us or the grandchildren because she knew we would say no if she asked. Labeling things and returning them to box, barrel, or shelf kept her heart from being broken.
What to say about this process? It’s both blessing and curse, burden and bonanza. It’s a reliving of days past, a heart-full of people gone, proof of a mother who loved her children well—and who had a life before and beyond us.
The million dollar question: in saving this task from our children, what will be the loss to them?
P.S. Remember to check out www.gretchenstaebler.com. Subscribe to my e-letter there and read the first two chapters of my memoir: Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver, coming from She Writes Press in October.