House keeping

Mom and Dad, 1947 (© Huffygirl)

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?

Mom, Dad and kids, 1951 (© Huffygirl)

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. 

Dad, World War II, probably 1941. Note cigar in left hand. (© Huffygirl)

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.

Dad and kids, around 1959. That's me on the right. (© Huffygirl)

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.

33 thoughts on “House keeping

  1. Powerful. What does one do with all these wonderful things?
    The photos are classic and wonderful! A time capsule for sure.
    Perhaps you could create some sort of an altar/shrine/mini-museum in a corner of your house.

    • Good idea Z. That’s why I’m having my Dad’s WWII map framed – I’m hoping to keep things that we can see ever day instead of just packing their stuff away in a box.

  2. We went through this not long ago, with my grandparents’ home. It was all of those things: puzzling, sad & happy. To find my grandmother’s address book, with little love notes from my grandfather tucked inside was an especially touching thing. Best wishes…I know how hard this is to do.

  3. Donna, I know exactly what you mean. Our Dad passed away in 1977 so most of his things were taken care of long ago.

    Mother was a different story.
    Most of our lives (me and my brother) mother had kept the house so immaculate that no one wanted to come over because they would be afraid to leave anything sitting around; and shoes had to be taken off at the front door 🙂
    However, through her years of Alzheimer’s she became total opposite. When we finally had to put her in an assisted living home we had to clean out her house! Many things had to be thrown out, but lots of things we donated to different organizations. The big final project was going through hundreds of photographs. Many taken over the last several years of her life were of people we didn’t know and therefore could not find them to give them the pictures. Those had to be thrown away.
    As we went through the rest we would remember times in the past. We would keep certain photos which meant something special to us, some we put aside to send to relatives or friends, many went into a box to keep for the family keepsakes and eventually put into photo books. There were still many which didn’t mean anything and went into the trash.

    Not an easy thing to do…go through our parents things and have to decide what to do with them.

    But Donna, remember what you said about still having the memories. So even if you get rid of most if not everything, you will still have the memories.

    • Thanks Ann. You’re right about the memories. It’s silly to not be able to let go of the “stuff” that goes with them. We’ll keep working on it – still have a ways to go.

      • What my brother and I realized as we went through so much of mother’s things is that we need to clean out our own STUFF so no one has to come behind us and clear it out. I have been simplifying my life a little at a time, yet sometimes it is still hard to get rid of stuff. I just keep trying 🙂

      • I’ve been feeling that way too – while I’m cleaning out my parent’s stuff I keep thinking about what my kids will do with my things when they’re cleaning out my house some day. A little morbid I guess. Part of me wants to clean out my house now so they won’t have to do it, but then I’d deprive them of the memories.

        My mom obviously wasn’t worried about my having to sort through all her things – she left it for me to do.

  4. It sounds very difficult, Huffy. I think I’d have to sort through things several times before being able to part with some of the sentimental stuff.

    It makes me realize how difficult it will be for our kids and grandchildren to sort through all the stuff on our computers–photos, scanned documents, etc.

    • I think that’s wise advice – to sort through more than once. I think the first sorting is separting the wheat from the chaff. After that, we probably need to see what “wheat” to keep and what to give away. The chaff part has been easy – no debate needed about saving old shoe boxes.

      Probably anyone under 30 who reads this blog is saying “Wheat?” “Chaff?” “What in the world is she talking about?” 🙂

  5. When my mom died about 25 years ago, there was no one else to help. She had been living with me, so there was no house to sell or rent, but there was a huge pile of furniture, some of it antique, and old stuff that Mom loved. I was moving away and had not room to keep it nor enough funds at the time to store it. I had to sell it all. I cried when the dealers came first and bought up all the “good” stuff for such a low price. They were like sharks that sliced you before you knew you’d been attacked.

    Then well-meaning people who made me cry when they asked questions. It was wayyyy too early for me to be trying this. I wasn’t even healed at all, but circumstances dictated I had to.

    So my advice, for what it’s worth, is wait for an interval until the rawness of their passing is manageable and somewhat healed before you dispose of things (which you will have to unless you are going to rent storage somewhere). And, as you mentioned, keep a few of the things that are meaningful to you. I did, and even though I wasn’t into materials things at all in those days, I can’t tell you how much now I treasure the little Hummel figurines that Mom loved so much. The pain goes away, but the memories never do.

  6. Tough, tough. 😦 Great entry, though. I have enough trouble sometimes giving away things from my own household (maybe Grandma did, too? Old coats & shoeboxes??); it’s hard to fathom sorting your loved ones’ lifetime of possessions, too. On a practical note, I personally think that photos of relatives (esp from Grandma & Grandpa’s families) with dates & places are good to keep (and don’t take up much space), as well as documents that can help trace ancestry (things w/ years, names, and places). A general trick I’ve heard for memorabilia sorting, too, is that if you think you should probably part with something, but you’re having trouble doing so, you can take a picture of the item. It’s a decent compromise between parting with something completely vs. having to figure out where to store it.

    • Great idea Judy.

      I would like to keep all the photos, but I wonder if I’m just prolonging their being thrown out some day by my kids. Maybe we should make you the family archivist and then YOU can keep them.

      Thanks for reading my blog – I didn’t think you were following it.

      • I wish I had time to be a more regular “follower.” I think you have great posts! I mostly just click on it if I happen to see that you’ve put up the link on facebook. (I don’t even do fb every day, so I probably miss a lot of those notifications.)

        I don’t mind the IDEA of being the family archivist–I’ve always enjoyed genealogy. Depends on what people would expect from that role, though. I haven’t even finished either son’s first yr baby album yet. And considering that one of them is five… 🙂 If it means keeping a photo-safe box somewhere, okay. If it means cataloging anything, probably now isn’t the best time for me. Maybe in a few years when the kids are in school?

        Both you and mom might be interested in the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” They pick celebrities and trace their family trees. It’s been really interesting. That’s where I got the idea about saving photos and any documents that identify names/places/dates. That’s how genealogists manage to track people down.

        And I agree with mom, when the next generation has to do this, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it and figure out for ourselves what to keep for our kids. So, save whatever is meaningful for you and what you want your parents to be remembered for, I guess?

      • I think the family archives will probably start out as a box with all the random photos, obituaries, etc. Once we turn it over to you, then you can do what you want with it. Personally I’m finding scanning things and making them into digital files or a book on Snapfish seems to be a better way to keep things than putting them into photo albums, taping things in, adding captions, etc. We can talk more about it when we’re together sometime. Since I have sons, I can’t really picture them doing much to keep the family archives – they’ve never even put their own special photos in an album.

        Maybe you should email subscribe to my blog if you want to follow it more. When you sign up, you’ll get an email that you must respond to to confirm your subscription. Then you’ll get an email of every new post. If you don’t have time to read it then, it just sits in your inbox untill you’re ready for it.

  7. Beautifully done, Donna. I do think Judy has the right idea. I think we should save all photos, and any pertinent news clippings. Some of our kids may cherish them (I know I find the King side’s old photos absolutely fascinating.) And if they have to sort through stuff they don’t want after we’re gone–well, I think that’s part of the process. I’m loving finding all this stuff.

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  9. I loved reading this. And, it’s something that’s my husband, I and my siblings will be facing at some point. I loved the old photos. My brothers and I get a kick out of seeing the really old ones of the three of us. They scan them, put on the facebook and we get a smile out of all the conversation they evoke.

    • Thanks Doris. Finding the old photos has been a blessing. I probably should put some on FB – the best way to get the rest of the family to see them.

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