Thursday, April 1, 2010


It is a long lonely process, dismantling all of the stuff of one's youth, the dusty old toys, the moth-eaten books,  the 'Game of Life' well used, played constantly, giving no idea that life is not a game, but a  long hard road with very few shortcuts to happiness.
The  always creepy basement is full of ghosts. Joanie in her sleeping bag shivering while Pat told the scariest stories about men with hooks for hands and monsters out to maim and kill small children and teenagers in the most horrific manner. Those stories caused a fear of the dark that has stretched over 40 years. One runs up the basement stairs still feeling that tingling between the shoulder blades, still.
The old pool table stands forlorn, pockets empty, cue sticks tip-less, chalk useless. The bar, so cool with it's own sink and Naugahyde covered swiveling bar stools where one could spin oneself far out into another galaxy...close the eyes and spin, faster and faster until once stopped the world revolved around the spinner, disorientation and escape complete, if only for a few moments.

Everything seems so small, so much smaller than memory recalls.
Nannie's china chest, filled with irresistible, untouchable trinkets, the scary table saw that sounded late at night:: that night when the hollering woke slumber and the blood stains made a trail down the hallway as a neighbor tried to wipe them up. Daddy had an accident, it's okay, go back to bed. OK.

The rest of the house filled with treasures gathered from far away places. A few of them will go to new homes, cherished  family heirlooms. But what of the rest of the items so lovingly collected and displayed? How does one get rid of things that were bought for their beauty or novelty, the buyer on a gleeful holiday free of any inkling of what the future holds? These items now sit on the dining room table, next to the breakfront filled with the precious china and leaded crystal goblets that made the table at the holidays so beautiful and festive. It is hard to look at these things and not think about how much they were loved, how dear they were, how much pleasure they brought to the one gazing through the glass. But there is so much collected in a large house where 7 people lived their lives, lives truly of 'quiet desperation'. Who wants all of these things? What do they all mean? After all, they are just things. But they meant something to the one who brought them home and they feel important in some way. Maybe it is the memories stored away inside them, all of the Christmas dinners, the parties, the family visits . Those memories remain after the things are gone but are somehow diminished  when these things are treated as if they have no value.

The attic is a magpie's nest of cards and letters and photos saved over the course of almost 60 years. Tiny bridal shower cards, with that dearly familiar handwriting on the back detailing the gift that came with them, wedding cards with sweet little flowers and glitter, baby showers, birth announcements, kindergarten graduation certificates, the beginnings of a family and a life with all of the hopes and dreams that accompany young love. All of it saved in an attic that suffered invasions by rapacious raccoons, squirrels and other chewing critters that ate their way through most of that hope and left the remains piled in the corners. All of those things so lovingly saved, so precious, so ruined, meaning nothing to the one who was left behind. The sadness of sweeping up and throwing away these things is overwhelming, the resharpened feeling of loss and heartache cutting back through to the surface. Tears leave wet tracks through the grime that is stirred up by the sweeping.
There is one box, untouched by the marauders, just a shoe box, just a treasure chest of photos of childhood friends, of letters written by young friends long forgotten, letters from  the once cherished, now estranged sister, from beloved grandparents written in that fractured English that 50 years of living in America could not fix. Pages of bad poetry, reading of longing and loss wishes unfulfilled, pages of teen-aged angst that feels still all too familiar.

There is more, much more before this project of packaging up 50 years of life will be complete. There is no escaping the memories, they are there in every item picked up and wrapped : sometimes they slip in, causing a  rueful smile, other times they are like a sucker punch to the midsection, leaving a weeping wreck in their wake. But this job must be done, this move must be made in this life, so close to over. It is a long process, sad and hard, with  few light moments in between.

New memories are made every day and  gradually replace the melancholy of the old, life is truly happier now, the good finally outweighs the bad. When this project is complete, and the move to a new life is made, the old man will settle in his new chair in front of his beloved television, with the few chosen mementos carefully placed around him. And for him the old memories will slowly fade into the background . Hopefully what will remain of the past will lose it's sting of sadness, an accommodation will be made with loss: the memories put away in a quiet place, trouble no more.


ReRe said...

Hi Peg

I am so happy to see you writing again. How are you and Gus doing? I followed your journey together. I am surprised that no one has commented on this post. I just went through a house cleaning and it was not good. I have an entire life of memories in my home and some from everyone else's home. My problem is when I pick something up, I think of the story that goes with that particular item. I just found a list that my Mom wrote out for me of things to pick up for her. Mom is gone now 15 years but I don't want to part with that piece of paper. Crazy I guess. But I have to go through my life of memories, I have to sort which to keep and which to part with. I have to ask myself do I want to put my family through the job of going through my life? But how to do I'll keep re-reading and then maybe I will start.
Take Care Peg

peg said...

Gussy is doing fine. He is put back together albeit a tad crooked. He plays with Grady and jumps on me when I come home from work (bad dog)but he has lost something . He no longer plays with the total reckless abandon for which he was famous....instead of launching himself off of the deck he scampers down all 8 steps somewhat gingerly, and I worry that he is in pain. But he seems happy, he is as goofy and sweet as ever and I give him extra lovin' every day, so glad am I that he is still here.
ReRe, I have my Mom's recipe for stuffed artichokes, handwritten on a now stained 4x6 index card. I have carried it with me from job to job, keeping it in a place where I will see it every day and know that Mom is watching out for me. Her handwriting always causes a pang of sorrow, even after 17 years, but it also brings me great comfort. I keep her recipe for the lemon sauce I used to make to pour over gingerbread when I was child after family dinner taped to the inside of a cabinet in my kitchen. You are not crazy or we are both crazy. Those are the things we keep, that are the most valuable, as they contain the essence of the one who has gone on ahead of us. Your heart will tell you what needs keeping.
This process of sorting through my family home has been hard, but it has served to teach me a few lessons. The word 'simplify' has gained new meaning for me : as we go through the things Mom collected, I have seen how much 'stuff' does not matter. It has also served to ease the estrangement that has been between my sister and me for the past 5 years or more. So maybe it is not a bad thing for your family to sort through your life, they will get to know see you in a totally new light and learn about who you really were, and maybe learn something about themselves as well.
My best to you on your journey.