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Peeling off the Pieces

My mother died five years ago now. I am the youngest of a crop of cousins who range up to those starting their own old age. I am half done with my life.

My brother and I are still wrestling with selling off the things we will never use.This includes a house and property. Neither of us can go live there. It makes no sense to keep it. The person who buys it will not use it the way my parents did. They may come to love it, but it will be a vacation home. They  will not have a big garden, and a goat shed. They will not practice home canning, and buy mail order bees. My parents moved to the country in 1970, as a sort of rebellion. They brought with themselves things for possible lives. Then they discarded what they did not use, (or put it in an attic which actually sounds more like them.)

I am still peeling away the things I am not going to keep. This week I dug out a box of silverware. It was here in my apartment, tucked in a corner. I had not opened it since we packed it to move from Florida 7 years ago now. I did not use it in Florida, or before that, or ever. I am never going to have a dinner party for 12.  She gave it to me for a life that is just not going to happen. There is not room in my apartment for 12 people. Better to sell it to someone who will love it and use it. Better to sell it and never think of it again.

But I opened the box today and my throat filled. It smells of her house-- of old books, and wood, and just a little mildew.  The wooden box itself needed cleaning. Son's cactus had rested on it, all the way up from Florida. Cactus had an encounter with the cat, in the back of the car. So dirt. I had the oil soap ready-- but I was sorry to wash away the last, lost, smell of the past.

I am thinking, a little muzzily, about what gets kept and what gets discarded. The things we give our children, the things our parents gave us, are not always things we will use or need. Some things are a good bet: Language, literacy  health, kindness, some species of decent manners. But even those things change a lttle with the times.

Nobody knows what to hand forward, what to save. I do not now need to know how use a scythe. I held the scythe, last time I went home, this summer, when we were throwing things away.  I thought about the smooth wood under my hand, and the way it seemed to wrap around my body. It is a beautiful tool. But I was going home to Brooklyn, on a plane, I could not bring it through Logan airport. It is, after all, a giant knife. So I left it, in the woodshed. I did not throw it away.

My mother also had a giant saw. it is the kind meant to be used by two men, one of whom stands in a hole in the ground. My parents never used it. But it was always there. Probably had come with the house. We left that there too. I expect it will puzzle the buyers. Or maybe it will please them. That would be good. There were things like that when my parents bought the house too. it was before my birth, but i know the stories. Some things they kept. Some things were puzzling, or comical, or useless.  There is a rocking chair that came with the house. it cannot leave the house, because if you put it on a level floor it will dump you over backward. You could put a marble on the floor of my childhood, and watch it roll to the downhill side of the room. The house was built by sailors. The floorboards are joined with tar and oakum. They are probably watertight, but they are not level.

Nobly knows what to hand forward.

That is all I am thinking tonight. It is not much of a thought-- but there it is anyway. I figure you guys will know what I mean.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 22nd, 2013 07:26 am (UTC)
" I am half done with my life"
that's relative isn't it..?I am half done with life by my great grandmother's standards:I'm 57 she was 106!

funny how we 'find' things we haven't used for years and remember things we didn't even know we had forgotten

the things you left behind are worthy of a (ghost?) story
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
All four of my grandparents lived into mid nineties. I am 47. So, I am pretty sure this is the middle. Not the middle of adulthood, but the middle of awareness.

The things i left behind have a ghostly quality, some of them. Some of them were thrown away because they were just nasty. No ghosts we want to meet for: Old cracked vinyl pocketbooks, 1970's era TV set, old canned goods, abandoned shoes... debris of a life...
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:42 am (UTC)
I'm 58 - Hopefully more than half done with my life. I've let a lot of things go too.

Re family silverware - I just use it and plop it in the dishwasher.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:25 pm (UTC)
Some I kept, and will use that way. But this I do not need.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:51 am (UTC)
Beautifully written.

My dad passed away 20 years go this February. When I go visit my mom up in Canada, which is rarely because of the distance, it always feels a bit strange. I still miss my dad.

Edited at 2013-03-22 09:51 am (UTC)
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:35 pm (UTC)
It is funny how sometimes you struggle for each word, and sometimes writing is like dictation from the sky. This was the second kind. But as always, what I really meant feels elusive to me. Not sure how much of that made it to the page, and how much scooted away.

My dad died in 1982. There were things in the house that were specific to him, too, and memories of him. But they are dimmer now, and further back.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:18 am (UTC)
Every word of that made entire sense and chimed with my own experiences of clearing out my mother's house.

Smells - the most evocative of things.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC)
It is interesting how many of us have gone the same thing. I realized I am always writing about how things smell. I think it is a sense that we must use a lot more than we think we do. And it is wrapped up with childhood so strongly. Children are sniffy little beings.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 01:30 pm (UTC)
Oh I understand... it's difficult to sell or throw away the things which have belonged to our own family for years. I bet you understand that I understand you!
Even when we know we would never use them... sometimes we need time to give them up. And if you have space for them in your house it's good to keep them just for the memory.
Who knows? Your children, or their children might love to own them in the future, when they become old!

And your parents' house... it sounds wonderful place to me... maybe not very convenient but it's a kind of house which I'd like to live in if I have enough time and money. I hope you would find someone who can appreciate & like the house.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC)
I have been thinking of you a lot. We are going through much the same thing. It was a wonderful place, in many ways. I hope the people who take the house have a family that loves it. My mom would have wanted children in that house.
Oct. 3rd, 2016 11:39 pm (UTC)
I was not on hand (or even on the same side of the world) when my mom and her sisters cleared out my grandparents' home in the country - it was over a hundred years old and looked much like your family home did. I wish we could have kept that wonderful old homestead, but I have to tell myself it's good that another family is using it now. I don't know why, but I seem to have a stronger memory for places and things than I do for people and events - perhaps because I cannot go back and see my soon-to-be-married cousin as a toddler, but I can see my aunt's home where I babysat him. Going back there made me cry. And I can't see my grandmother, or her home now, but I have the plates - just a few small dessert plates, not the whole set - from the day we all had a picnic under the smaller maple tree on their front lawn, when all the family was together. I still dream sometimes that I am back at my grandparents' home.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 01:45 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, you have captured the feelings so well. I remember my brothers and sister and I clearing out the house I grew up in. My folks had lived there since they moved in with their first newborn son. Forty plus years of Christmases and Thanksgiving dinners and our first TV and the old 'coal bin' left when they switched to oil heat and all the 'detritus' of raising 6 kids.

More recently, we went through this with my MIL. Widowed, she moved out of the home she'd had for 40 years to a senior apartment, from there to a nursing home and with her death recently, even that had to be cleaned out.Each move meant more stuff given to charity (clothes and furniture and silverware, etc.) but more stuff moved to our house;like three albums of photos showing family picnics and birthday parties interspersed with senior citizen trips with bus loads of friends. I have the distinct feeling that these will stay around long enough to become my children's problem;"What do we do with Mom's "STUFF"?
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:48 pm (UTC)
I know that my husband will have to do this eventually for his parents. And they have a lot of stuff! Photos, I sorted. There were thousands. I took a lot with me. Someday I hope to scan them to disc and label them. That way my kids will have a head start when their turn comes!

Mar. 22nd, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
I read your lovely thoughtful post on the way to work this morning and it's been with me all day. I was very attached to "things" when I was younger but I find as I get older it's places that are most evocative to me. Though you won't be surprised to know that I am still very attached to books. After my mother passed away it was mostly books and ceramics that I took from her house and one very special painting.

The house was built by sailors. The floorboards are joined with tar and oakum. They are probably watertight, but they are not level.
I can't tell you how much I love that. I hope the next owners of the house appreciate the watertight floors and the sailors who laid them.

Sorry I've been scarce of late, just busy with work, I've got another conference next week but hopefully things will calm down a little after that. I've been thinking of you even though I haven't had a chance to post or comment :)
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
I am so glad to hear from you. I thought you would appreciate the detail of the floors. The old people always said that the houses were crooked because the builders still had sea-legs! I can just see Mr Bush scoffing at that, can't you? I expect he could work a plumb line and a T square!

We left some documents, and pictures behind, so that the people who buy the house can see a little of it's history, if they want. I hope they will.
Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:35 pm (UTC)
I am so glad to hear from you.
I'm glad to be back. For the time being at least :}

The old people always said that the houses were crooked because the builders still had sea-legs!
That'd a great story! And yes, I am quite sure that Mr Bush knew how to plumb a true line.

We left some documents, and pictures behind, so that the people who buy the house can see a little of it's history
What a good idea! I hope the eventual new owners will appreciate the house's history as much as you do :)
Mar. 23rd, 2013 07:24 pm (UTC)
beautiful and moving melancholy.
Mar. 26th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
I haven't had to go through this yet. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when the time comes. My parents are (thankfully) happy, healthy, and active, so I don't know if I want to think about it as yet.

Internet hugs, if you want or need them.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )