My family and I are cleaning out my parents house. It evokes a strange conglomeration of feelings – I’m puzzled, sad, happy, surprised, and mystified all at the same time.
Puzzled: why did Mom have twenty empty shoe boxes, complete with the tissue paper, silica gel, and shopping bag, in her closet? She had more shoe boxes than she had shoes, and most of her shoes were exactly the same – standard-issue senior citizen walkers, with Velcro straps. It couldn’t have been that she was trying to decide if she liked them, because almost every pair was exactly the same as the one before it. Accompanying the shoes is every coat she’s bought for the last 20 years – all out of style, an array of sizes that no longer fit, yet there they were, lined up, carefully stored in garment bags, for what – the next depression?
Sad: photos and papers from my parent’s growing-up years. Turns out Dad had an eighth-grade diploma stating he was entitled to attend high school tuition free, but never went. My sister and I suspect his struggles with learning English at age 6 when he entered school had made school difficult and uncomfortable for him, so opted out. A picture of Dad and his mom at his sister’s wedding. It appears that Dad had walked her down the aisle, as their father had died a few years earlier. Now I understand why he seemed closer to her than he had to his other sisters.
Happy: family photos from all sorts of events. Mom arm in arm with girlhood friends. Mom and Dad at what looks like a bridal shower. Their growing-up mementos, from a First Communion veil, holy cards for good behavior, diplomas, pictures of army buddies and unidentified relatives; all of we kid’s school pictures with our homely hair styles and tacky looking glasses, tucked lovingly into the corner of a drawer.
Surprised: workbooks from Mom’s classes for her GED. Looks like she struggled with math, which we never noticed growing up, but she passed anyway. Mom’s sewing and knitting projects – we were surprised when she crotched little capes for our dolls, but she was more creative than we knew. Dad’s art books – we knew he had he dabbled in art after his retirement but didn’t know he studied sketching.
Mystified: what to do with all of it? We don’t want to discard our family memories, but at the same time, don’t want to fill up our own homes with box after box of sentimental “stuff.” What to do with Dad’s old army uniform and accoutrements? I’ve decided to have an old map detailing his army unit’s travels framed, but what about the rest of it? I’m trying to keep things I might actually use. There’s a ring of Mom’s I think I would wear, but what about the other jewelry that doesn’t suit my taste, but I have too many fond memories of playing with to easily discard? Maybe we should limit ourselves to each keeping what will fit in one box. But what will happen with that box years from now when my kids are forced to sort through it? Will anyone care about Uncle Stan’s obituary, Grandma’s old diploma and Grandpa’s Army engineer pin?
Emptying out a childhood home is a task that many of us will deal with at one time or another in our lives. How we sort it all out is a challenge. Keeping the memories close is a blessing.