It’s strange how exhilarating it is to throw out bags of garbage, junk, and long-dead electronic items. Difficult to start, admittedly, but addicting once you get started.
At least, that’s what I’m feeling in the last two weeks. And just now, when I dumped 5 more bags into the contractor’s trailer. I will have more to throw, I know, but for right now, I’m sitting at the computer desk, surrounded by so much stuff that I wonder whether I really have thrown out anything at all. Maybe, in fact, when I go to bed at night, all this stuff simply reproduces itself. Sort of like the essays and exams I graded for 30 years.
Those things, useful though they probably were in an earlier life, have past their shelf-life here. Deep purging of material items is long overdue. It’s tempting, in fact, just to dump away without examining the contents of entire drawers, full of items, or folders, or boxes. Instead, though, I have to open the boxes, sort through the files and papers and drawers of things, assessing them.
Why did Dad still have three electric razors, in their cases, piled on Grandpa Charlie’s desk? He doesn’t use an electric razor.
Why are there bank statements and bills going back to the 1990s? Those are in a garbage bag and I will take them someplace that will shred documents, where I’ll pay by the pound. I mean, I am not going to hand-feed bags of paid bills, ancient bank statements and the like through the 8-pages-at-a-time shredder that I can’t even get to because it’s under a desk that has chairs and an electric medical scooter and mysterious stacks of other stuff blocking it.
I’ve already sorted through dishes, and there’s a box of those ready to take to Goodwill. I bought new Corelle dishes, figuring that at least if Dad drops those they probably won’t break. And the dishes I’ve piled in a box? At least three different patterns, none of which match each other, and no complete sets of anything. Why oh why do we need so many pots and pans? Some, I remember as I touch them, were from the two grandmothers, family heirlooms. My Grandmother Ware’s cast-iron pots have their place with Dad’s. Seasoned cast iron pots must never be thrown away, only cherished and passed on. My Grandmother Ella’s gumbo pots (huge, industrial-size pots) that came to Mother at some point. (Though I’ve got a smaller one from Ella in my own kitchen — she gave it to me when I first set up an apartment in 1975 in Beaumont.) A cheap set of pots that once served the camper Mother and Dad had in the 1980s. Odds and ends, none matching, but so many still used and valuable. Those I’ve managed to sort through and store, knowing that some will go to my kitchen and some to Kay’s. Others, though — probably to Goodwill at some point. Glassware: same sort of story. Most of those mismatched pieces are ready to go, though I still have another cabinet to work through. There are, though, some glasses and dishes I won’t toss: the very 50s stylish highball glasses from my grandmother Ella, rather Oriental and exotic (as she could be). The complete set of Franciscan ware (the dark red pattern, not the pink one) that Mother kept for special occasions, that will be Kay’s. That set occupies the highest shelf in one cabinet, and might as well stay since I’m too short to access that shelf without a ladder anyway.
Plastic tubs from margarine and other food products? Found dozens of ’em. Tossed every one of them. Yet I keep discovering more, tucked away in corners and at the backs of shelves. Waiting to be unpackaged and put into use: real containers for storing and reheating leftovers.
Dozens of jars of home canning were stacked in the tiny dining room that also holds two upright freezers (yes, two, not one) and that held Grampa Charlie’s desk and a three-drawer filing cabinet. Most were jellies and jams that Dad had put up. Most were also long out of date. Kay threw those away last weekend, keeping only those that are actually still edible.
Yet despite such abundance of some items, I find a lack of others. No measuring spoons in the kitchen. No large mixing bowls. No measuring cup over a one-cup size. So new items are showing up now. mixed with the old. The kitchen pantry (aka another regular cabinet) overflows onto the one really usable counterspace. That’s something that needs addressing and remedying, somehow.
Paperwork? Bills? Other necessary records and documents? Dad has kept the books for the family farm; he also has his own financial records and bills. I couldn’t face that entire task.Kay has gone through the two filing cabinets and four desk drawers, sorting what was there into two piles, one for the farm, one for Egan. In each of those, she has separated what is 2011 material from anything earlier. But I’ve now mailed off the farm documents to my cousin who is taking over maintenance of financial matters there. Dad’s bills and documents were in filing cabinets, but often just tossed in — or piled in the four desk drawers. Now, though, Kay has reduced the tons of paper to bags (to be shredded), boxes for past stuff to keep, and a portable file box for current stuff. So much more decipherable. She will balance Dad’s checkbook, too. Of course, when I get to set up the office area, I also have to set up an area for my own bills. Those will go into the purple file box I’ve already got waiting.
Then there are the drawers of Dad’s clothes — his wardrobe has had to change recently. Weight loss is one reason. His frailty is another. Blue jeans have been replaced by sweatpants. Pullover shirts and t-shirts replace buttoned shirts. No more white undershirts and shorts; solid colors and plaids are easier to maintain. His closet? I’m not even touching that at all.
As I have sorted through his clothes, I realize that Dad’s been using some of the clothes that were my brother’s. In my own bedroom closets, which I attacked in June, I threw out something like 15 garbage bags filled with some of my old stuff, but also some items that were Mother’s, and more that were Phil’s. Since Phil was about 5 ‘ 9″ and never weighed more than 165 when he was healthy, that means Dad’s weight loss has been ongoing. Now Dad weighs 145 as of this week.
Unearthing assorted items that belonged to Phil was one thing. Finding two of his suitcases, labeled with his neat handwriting, threw me, though. One night last week I simply sat in the kitchen on the floor and went through one suitcase — and cried. I kept his ties, lovely and colorful, and plan to make something with them, though just what I don’t know. The suitcase and the clothes? Gone. The other, larger suitcase? Still waiting for me to work up the courage to open it. Phil died in January 1996, yet grief has a sneaky way of popping up when you least expect it and serving you a gut-punch.
Today I took out the remaining files in one drawer of the file cabinet to put in a box — and discovered one file that held dozens of letters and notes that Phil had written to Mother and Dad, and then to Dad after Mother died in 1993. I just put that file carefully into the box and wrote “Phil’s letters” on it so I’d know what was most important in that box.
Evidence of my brother and mother? Everywhere. Even a pair or two of Mother’s shoes revealed themselves when I pulled boxes and other things out of the bottom of Dad’s closets, though I would have sworn that Kay and I had found all of Mother’s clothes and donated those years ago.
Most telling, perhaps, is the calendar on the wall near where Dad’s bed was, from 1993, still left at the July page, with the dates of July 30 and 31 annotated: for July 30: “Irene passed at 4:25 a.m.” and for July 31: “Buried at Antioch 4:30 p.m.” Despite all the years he’s survived and toughed through Phil’s last illnesses and death and his own health problems, somehow that calendar and the two simple, neatly printed statements cut through me. The dual contradictory reality of Dad’s life clearly speaks here. Somehow he lives in time yet some part of time and life stopped for him then.
Married in May 1948, Mother and Dad beat the odds of a mixed marriage (he’s Church of Christ, she was Roman Catholic — very unusual for then), of the loss of their first child, of Mother’s emotional illnesses, of losses of parents and then Phil’s first bout with cancer. Somehow I had forgotten that once they had been young and deeply in love; maybe most children don’t really think of their parents in that light. Yet in the last weeks of her life, as she lay in a hospital bed in Lafayette, I remember one moment where it hit me — I was sitting on a couch, reading, looked up and caught a look between them so personal and loving that I not only realized that they loved each other, but that they were in love and lovers. I felt horribly out of place, as though I’d interrupted a personal, intimate moment.
Not only bound by duty and responsibilities and vows, but by love, still real, still deep.
And so I left her shoes too, along with the calendar and Phil’s letters. Along with the condolence cards that I know are in the cedar chest — from the death of their first child in 1950, kept along with all our baby bracelets from hospitals, with school report cards and other mementos for me and Phil and Kay, and some of our baby clothes. My first pair of glasses, blue metal ones so tiny that it’s hard to believe I got them in second grade.
Those items are too precious to touch. They are reminders of lives gone but still part of us.
Then there is the room where Phil kept his cartridge-loading equipment. There is the double-garage filled with Dad’s tools, Phil’s tools, and those of my mother’s late stepfather, Glenn. They’re waiting for attention too. Luckily, I can put those areas off for now. I’m working from the inside out in my purging.
Tonight when the sheetrock guy leaves, I will once more tackle the task of clearing out, of boxing up, and throwing away. But I will touch only my own room, my own belongings. That’s all I can handle tonight.