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The Inevitable Sad Task
My house is starting to look like Mom’s. Here’s the painting the late Jim Harrison signed for her. Here’s my portrait as a young man that long hung in what we called the “Christmas room.” Over there on the sofa is a shimmering gold, green, and red throw I gave her for Christmas before illness plagued her. By the TV console is her end table and blue china lamp. Beneath the lamp stands a beautiful milky white vase with a pair of partridges painted upon it, and by it are matching blue porcelain music boxes.
On the kitchen table sits a beautiful bowl with a sunflower motif, the flower Dad loved so much. On my hearth is the tri-folded framed U.S. flag the Honor Guard presented to Mom at Dad’s service, his final salute. As I walk through my home and see all these things and more, I am transported 102 miles in seconds. I’m back home and memories of family dinners, holidays, and more surround me.
The years have rolled by, and the inevitable sad task most children must face stares my sisters and me in the face. We are going through our parents’ possessions deciding just what to do with them. With some things, it’s obvious. You keep them in the family. Other things prove more difficult. We already have the things that make up a home: sofas, TVs, lamps, and such. And then there are the personal things. Cookware, dinnerware, food in the freezer, canned goods, and such complicate things. What’s the best course of action? Some things will go to charities. Inevitably, we will have to discard some things and sell things, including the home place itself.
I’m sure writers have tried, but I don’t know if anyone could write a “how to” book that helps with the dismantling of a home and the memories it holds, and even if they did, I doubt it would help much. Removing a longstanding home of all the things that made it a home is a unique thing, like a snowflake, like DNA, or a fingerprint. Each family faces a different situation.
My sisters and I are taking this sad time and making it a positive thing. For us, it has been a time to get together and go through the house remembering special moments and allocating things, then gather in the evening for a family dinner. It’s a time to remember better days, those days when our parents were healthy and enjoying life and family. We laughed, for instance, at how Dad played Pictionary. It’s not always like this, you know. I heard of one family that no sooner than the last parent was in the grave, they tore through the house, rifling through drawers and closets, trashing the house, and fighting over things. I heard of another family who, in a scene akin to a riot complete with looting, rushed through a home snatching things and fighting with cousins over who got what. At times like this, how nice it would be to be an only child, though that child must bear other, heavier burdens alone.
For my sisters and me, it has been a peaceful time. Mom asked that we take back whatever we had given her and Dad over the years. Easy enough and one reason my house is beginning to look like hers. Many things that I gave my parents over the years are now making the long trip back to Carolina from whence they came. It’s a time of reclaiming things, you could say. It’s been a time of discovery, too. Sunday, we came across Mom’s high school diploma, her graduation program, and a beautiful poem she wrote for graduation. None of us had ever seen these aged papers before. (More on discoveries like this in a later column.)
I like to look back and remember things. For that reason, my sisters asked that I take the family Bible as it fits my role of family historian. I have it now and within its covers are newspaper clippings, notes, and other memories Mom placed there for safekeeping. Glancing through it just now, I see funeral notices, certificates of faithfulness from New Hope Baptist Church, and a copy of my parents’ marriage license. Down the road, when the time is right, I’ll share what I find between the covers of that large Bible, bought in 1958.
The sad inevitable task teaches me something pretty simple. De-clutter your home on a regular basis. My parents were children of the Depression, and they seldom threw away things. Don’t leave a lot of “stuff” that complicates things. Be specific in your will. Tell your children, all at one time, just how you want things handled. Don’t tell them individually. That’s a scenario for feuding and fighting.
My trips across the Savannah are melancholy these days. As we continue to lovingly dismantle our childhood home, I will write more about it, though it is a sad task to write about. One thing it does, however, is good. It causes me to look ahead to those days when my daughters face the same sad inevitable task. I’ll do all I can to make it easy for them. If I do the job right, some day their homes will begin to resemble mine.