Sunday, October 5, 2014

The detritus of life

Why? To accumulate stuff

This has been a heavy week for Cookie.  My mother and father's birthdays were this week, a day apart.  Mom would have been 90 and my father would have been 92.  The old man has been gone for 18 years, while mom has been gone four years this coming November.

This week also marked a month since  "Dad" the husband's father has been gone.  Friday we flew to Boston and today, Sunday, we are home. 

Mom has been moved to assisted living and, given her ills, is doing fine.  She is much more perkier than she has been in that big old house. 

We spent most of time at the house, cleaning it out so it can be sold. 

Brother in law got a dumpster delivered and they were able to clean out most of the garage before the dumpster was full.  We were able to get their closets cleaned out and the clothing went to Goodwill.  This included the boxes of "Haband" brand clothing for old people. No buttons - instead velcro for that easy to fasten and unfasten convenience.  They once sent us Haband clothing for Christmas.  We put it on, took a picture and stripped it off.  Its the sentiment that counts. 

All the real antiques are out dispersed to the four winds of familydom.  And this weekend, all of the personal "stuff" - the photographs, the good cookware, the silver, the jewelry, computers and real art left amongst the four children. 

What is left is the detritus of life.  

This includes "little things" that were cute, dust catchers, furniture that was good in the seventies but is unremarkable. Dead plants, fake Royal Doulton and of course those blasted Hummel figurines that no one wants.  Notes - piles and piles of notes, the meaning of which are now unknown to the ages. Odd pens, dry with age, boxes and boxes of staples, paper clips and rubber bands so old that they crumbled.  And greeting cards bought in advance of some birthday, anniversary, death and new baby, all unused and brown with age.

And we found every bill that Dad ever received.  All marked paid.  But he kept them neatly filed in drawers of filing cabinets.  For a man who lost hearing aids without any problem, this was a shocker. 

In the kitchen, we found food twenty years out of date food stuffs, still sealed in its original boxes. When was the last time you saw a bar of Sweetheart Soap?  For me its been 25 years, and in that time this stuff turned to powder in its paper wrapper.  In the basement fridge that has been turned off for the last ten years and kept closed.  The smell was horrid. 

I worked on Dad's household desk - almost five hours of going through every page he filed away, just to see if he socked away any dividend checks - he did - about fifty, totalling about $20 in dividends in long merged or defunct companies.  

I did score the most fabulous Corning double boiler.  But at the same time, who is going to want the rest of all this stuff?

And their house wasn't cluttered, and it wasn't as if they had lived there the whole 67 years they were married, either.  This was just the stuff that accumulated as they grew older and older.

What is sad about this is you are not only disposing of the "stuff" of someone's life, but you are reminded of the quickly passing minutes of your own life.

And you have to keep reminding yourself that these things left behind are not your loved ones.  They are in your heart.  So it is OK to throw out that Building 19 5/8th's picture on the wall, because it was just there to take up the space.  Still, its not OK to throw out that tiny loving cup because its sterling.

And now that we are back home, I am looking around, making a list and checking it twice of all the things we need to get rid of ourselves. 


  1. do you have any idea how important
    building 19 was once in my life?

    1. You need to blog it. Unless you went to a Builing 19, you had no idea what they had. I miss it becuase you never know what you could find. My brother in law found a pair of men's PINK steel toe sneakers for under five dollars. He wore them for years.

    2. i can't say i knew that store from the get-go, (i think it started in hingham) but i became a constant fixture in norwood. i still kick myself that i threw out two BRAND NEW suits i bought, one electric blue, the other electric chartreuse, pencil straight tight slacks- matching jackets that were long & buttoned up to the neck with fabric covered buttons. outfits that paul revere & the raiders would've had made. i wore the pants, very occasionally, but never the coats. then, my waistline grew & that was that. i know i still have books from #19 too (a signed copy of a david leavitt novel!). aside from the search, always the best part, the goofy signs in the store were always amusing. cookie, you're really making me nostalgic!

    3. There was the porch rugs that we bought that went through one rainstorm and puckered up like the face of someone who had just bitten into a lemon.

  2. My Mom died a couple years before your Mom, but reading your blogs about your mother brings it all back. That's not a bad thing. You hear how you'll get accustomed to it or accept it. Baloney! You just learn to live with it.

    Every week I would drive 100+miles round trip to go shopping for my Mom. We went shopping together and then to Perkins or Denny's before the walking became too much for her. We tried the wheelchair/shopping cart thing once. And that was it, once. She said all the things whizzing by made her dizzy.
    Every week she'd tell me to get a roll of plastic wrap. It went on for weeks and months for about 1 1/2 years before she fell and could not go back to her house. I would think "Gee, she sure uses a lot of plastic wrap". Then, I'd think "Oh, she must be wrapping up 1/2 of a sandwich everyday or covering a cup of soup" etc.
    I had moved closer in the interim and then my partner left, leaving me with a big, empty house and a big, pointless mortgage. I sold the house and moved into Mom's place. I began going through things, organizing, cleaning, donating and trashing. One day it was the junk room's turn, where there was a huge industrial, wooden bookshelf picked out of the trash at a nearby closed RCA factory that employed thousands at one time. I moved some things around on the shelf and there they were, about 24 rolls of plastic wrap. So much for my theory that she was wrapping 1/2 of a sandwich or covering a cup of soup. No, she was just trying to maintain a normal shopping list as best she could. And I, being a dutiful son, scrupulously followed her list every week. I guess in my heart I knew what was happening, but I didn't want to face it at that time.
    One good thing about it was that I didn't have to buy plastic wrap for years after.

    1. With my mother and step father, it was aluminum foil. And when we moved into this house in Baltimore, Mrs. A., the woman who lived in our house, evidently also had a collection of foil. It's a sign.

  3. There is a line in the new Roz Chast book about how marketing aims at folks in their 20's and 30's because once you've had to clean out your parents' house, you never look at your own stuff in quite the same way.

    BTW Congrats on scoring the double boiler. ;-) That was a fixture in my mother's kitchen (used almost every day). Mom died 15 years ago this November 1st. Amazing how some things bring it all back so quickly.

  4. As much of a pain in the ass it is to go through your parents things, it is also a gift. When my mother died, my brother and I cleaned out her house. We roared with laughter and memories when we found my moms spices in the cupboard. I swear to god some had to have been from when she was a newlywed, the tins (literally TIN) hadn't be made in 30 years. There was the same sad tin of Paprika she sprinkled on top of potato salad. Heavens to betsy, NOT for flavor, just a little for color! LOL She never used it up in all those years. The bottle of Tabasco sauce was BROWN with age. She was from Iowa, not known for its spicy cuisine. My brother and I each kept one Tone's tin of spices in moms memory. Lord knows what people will think when they find those in our kitchen cabinets when we leave the mortal coil! They'd be ancient by then.

    1. One of things we found in the house was a sealed box of Midel from the 1970s. Why did she have it? In case a guest needed some. Now it's in my bathroom. In case a guest asked if we have a Midal from Nixon era.

    2. your time of month may bring cramps.
      what could be better to fix some old
      cramps than some old midol.

  5. What a lovely post. Thank you.

  6. I've done estate sales over the years and I love to go through peoples old stuff. After rummaging medicine cabinets, junk drawers, work shops, kitchens and linen closets, you have a clear idea of the kind of person someone was and more intimately how they lived their day to day lives.

    Interestingly enough, I cleaned my garage today and tossed many things.

  7. If I had to do this task all over again, I would have taken photos of the "little things" that I didn't want to keep, yet didn't want to forget about.

  8. There was a final box at my mother's house when we cleaned it out, pencils and pens from the junk drawer, but among the stuff was a pale blue round tin with a transfer image on the lid. You opened up the tin and inside were 12 small spools of flesh colored thread. E asked what it was and Why she kept it. I knew, and said it was my great grandmothers unused tin of silk stocking hose repair thread. It had no value, but she kept it because it was a connection. And I am keeping it for the same reason. A connection.

  9. And someone will keep it as a connection to you.