The past packed into boxes

Yesterday, I knelt on my grandmother’s bedroom floor, tucking a pile of her belongings into boxes. I only pilfered a few things, like an old umbrella that has survived decades, from the looks of it, and four marble eggs made in Italy. While I folded her coats and stuffed scarves into the cardboard boxes, my sister proclaimed, “I am going straight home and cleaning out my closets!” And I said, “Yes, because this is what it comes down to. People rifling through your things and wondering why you kept them.”

My grandma kept old calendars. I don’t know why, since they had no notes written in them. Probably for the pictures.

I keep old calendars because I like to go back and read the notes. When my twins were young, I’d scrawl down funny things they’d said so I could remember.

My grandma kept old keys. My mother gave me a skeleton key she found in a drawer at Grandma’s, thinking it might be to the old Singer sewing machine that Grandma gave me. (It wasn’t.)

I keep old keys. It just seems wrong to throw them away, even when they’re from the front door of the house we no longer own in Marysville.

She’s only been gone a few weeks, but already we are moving along, moving the remnants of her out of that house as quickly as possible so the house can be sold.

I think of the top drawer of my white dresser, the one I bought for $15.00 at a garage sale. I spent weeks stripping paint, sanding, priming and painting that dresser. The materials cost $75.00.

The top drawer is jammed packed with weird stuff that has no other home and sentimental things like cards. There might even be a dried-up umbilical cord stump in there, nestled next to a collection of foreign coins. And speaking of coins, whatever happened to silver dollars? My dad used to have a silver dollar or a fifty cents piece jangling in his pocket from time to time.

My storage room is piled with crazy stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. If I had a spare day, I could deal with the mess. I actually like sorting, purging and organizing . . . but I don’t have time. And my daughter, who comes by her packrat tendences honestly, will want to keep everything she sees, even the plastic baby toys hidden in large tubs.

Packing away a dead person’s belongings puts life into perspective. You really can’t take any of it with you–no would you want to, I’d think, if given a choice.

Today, I spent the afternoon digging in my front yard, trimming branches off hedges in the side yard, washing the patio with the hose in the back yard. The temperature reached 80 degrees and my daughter appeared in her Dora the Explorer swimsuit. My husband cooked dinner using his George Foreman grill. My teenagers used sharp implements to cut branches and hedges and I ended up being the only one with a cut (on my pinkie, from trying to catch the saw when I lost my grip).

The tulips prepare to bloom. The wasps buzz in and out of a hole near the front door. The leaves unfold like tiny green fans. And the stenciled walls at my grandmother’s house are hidden underneath a coat of fresh, white paint.

16 thoughts on “The past packed into boxes

  1. All the trees here are green and it is too hot for tulips. Saturday was really pretty but I have the horrible allergy head and can’t breathe. But I found some leftover meds from last year about this time and maybe today I will venture out into the beauty.


  2. I’m with Flylady on this one – if you aren’t using it, let go of it so someone else can. I just hope she doesn’t find out about Mr. Elephant, a stuffed rattle given to my first-born that I just don’t seem to be able to throw into the giveaway bag. My kids will have to take care of that for me after I’m gone.


  3. My mom was the first person close to me who’d ever died. It was left to me and one of my sisters-in-law to clear out all her stuff. My mom wore a plain gold wedding band, a birthstone ring with a stone for each grandchild…but she had tons and tons of costume and semi-precious jewelry tucked away. Magazine and newspaper clippings in dozens of manila envelopes. Envelopes full of recipes and, once we kids were grown, she hardly ever cooked. Oh, and a jarful of buttons tho she never sewed. You think you know someone, and then when you REALLY dig thru what was precious to THEM, it leaves you feeling unbalanced and baffled. There is so very, very much of each of us that only we ourselves EVER know.


  4. I tend to err on the side of giving things away that I do not use. There are few material items that I value. But I do keep treasures from my children.


  5. It is nice that you were able to go through the house before the sale, though. I’ll always remember how my mom and her brothers signed a contract with an auction company before they went through the house, and then realized they were no longer allowed to remove anything. My mom had to bid for her own high school letter sweater at the auction. Yes, she got it.


  6. I remember when we had to do this for my grandmother’s house about 4 years ago. It was so hard. It does make you really take your life into account and remember what is important, doesn’t it?


  7. My dad is living in a condo full of my mom’s things while she is living in a nursing home suffering from dementia. No one knows what to do with her things. It is so hard looking at what she kept, knowing that her memories are dying before her.

    I’m glad your grandma was able to keep her mind for all those years.

    But, just the thought that my granddaughter might someday blog about the ‘clothes pin dolls’ I keep in my desk drawer MAY cause me to get rid of some of this stuff I have.


  8. I’m sorry for your loss. It sounds like you have things under control. I’m a pretty sentimental gal and it was so hard for me to give away some of Brennan’s things and the other boys stuff. We just moved about 6 weeks ago.



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