We’re still gathered in family unity sorting through all the things my mother accumulated in her life. By her death at the age of 87 late last summer, she’d managed to pack an 18-room house plus attic, basement and garage with various and sundry items that would make any antique picker’s heart beat faster.
The lion’s share of the work has fallen on my sister who is not only the executor but also lives a few miles away. I’ve gone up for a mini-session as well as a marathon weekend and am planning to hit the road north again this weekend for another session.
I view the whole experience like an archeological expedition. As we delve through the layers, we tend to go back in time as well. Some of what we find is fascinating; most brings the reaction of “What did she keep this for?”
(I am interjecting a piece of advice for those of you who may leave photos behind: Label them. My mom did a great job on many of them, but I hit a whole box in which I wasn’t sure who any of the people were. Some, I suspect, were her college chums. I’m pretty sure that others are of my grandmother’s friends, who we often visited for the day, and people from the community that I don’t recognize because they were young.)
The task before us is so daunting that we’ve become quick and ruthless in getting rid of things. And without my mother standing beside me, I feel a little guilty as I toss away pictures of birds she’d clipped from magazines, a big bag of sawdust and hair curlers so old I don’t know if they make that kind anymore.
We quickly discovered a box that appeared to be newspaper clippings most likely contained other treasures of greater worth. I was merrily tossing out articles on weather patterns in Michigan and native flowers of Arizona when I discovered an original application to teach school from 1917.
That went into a keeper box — things we’ll sort through better at a later date. We used a rudimentary system of photos in one box and other stuff in another as the cartons piled up around us.
My sister and nephew own a small dump truck, so our helpers carried the filled bags of discards as we filled them. And yes, the truck was full by the time I left to come back to Kentucky.
We’d gone back and forth on a couch my mother had in her foyer. My sister toyed with the idea of recovering it with new cushions; my nephew was adamantly on the “dump” band wagon because it had been a favorite napping place of the dogs. The issue was decided when he leaned over the end of it and a flea jumped on his shoulder.
The couch went to the curb since the weekend we worked was conveniently right before the town’s cleanup days. We were sure, though, that someone would come along and take it before the city truck rolled by. That’s how these things work, after all.
Exhausted by a day of hard work, we parted ways. My nephew and his family went home as did his brother; my sister and I went out for supper.
We got home about an hour or so later. And yes, the couch was already gone.
Now if only it was that easy to get rid of old cleaned-up paint cans, empty candy boxes and signed but unsent Christmas cards.
CATHIE SHAFFER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org