Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Two lifetimes of stuff

Part of our trip to Colorado has included plans to clean out / organize / distribute the stuff that accumulates after a lifetime. My grandmother has gone into an assisted living facility in Denver, which means that her home in Casper needs to be cleaned out and sold. My mom passed away just over two months ago and her stuff needs to be sorted through as well.

The very obvious aspect of this to the family involved is that these are two different worlds. If you have ever been in my grandmother's house, you would never forget it. My grandmother is from the Depression era. This means that she does not easily get rid of anything, ever. Her house is stacked deep. My grandmother doesn't really clean, so the house is grimy as well.

As a child I spent many years at my grandmother's house. We used to explore her basement and find all sorts of treasures. We would play hide and seek, we would draw on the little chalkboard, we would play dress up in the stacks of clothes. We would play on the ancient electric piano and we would stay away from the very scary dolls in the corner. I looked at the basement this time around happy that my children weren't with me. Danger was everywhere!

My mother was the opposite of my grandmother and she always claimed this was my grandmother's fault and I believe her. She didn't save things. My mom is a clean freak who spent every Saturday morning cleaning the house from top to bottom regardless of whether it needed it or not. My mom's house is cleaner than I can ever hope that my house would be... and I pay for a weekly housecleaner.

When you walk through my mom's basement storage there are no sheets hanging from the ceiling to create rooms, instead, they have clear plastic bins with neatly typed labels describing the contents. As a kid I was often irritated with my mom for getting rid of things. Yes, I admit it, I have packrat tendencies. As an adult - and especially after going through my grandmother's belongings - I can appreciate more my mom's tendency to rid her home of clutter.

During our days of cleaning out the houses of mother and daughter we have discovered a few more similarities than we ever anticipated. Both my mom and grandmother have an affinity for beauty products, lots of different beauty products. In my grandmother's case it is beauty products from the last 20 years that she has received as gifts and has all this time "saved for a special occasion" - eventually never to be used. My mom bought really great stuff and wonderful smelling soaps.

My mom, like me, couldn't ever get rid of a book. I inherited my love for books from her. A love for a fresh, brand new, clean, creaseless book. And despite reading it and maybe not even liking it? Getting rid of a book is just not something either of us does with ease.

All of us? Huge fans of photos. None of us have ever thrown away a photo, no matter how out of focus.

We have all moved away from Casper, Wyoming. So cleaning out my grandmother's house had to be a quick activity. We squished it in to a few days where the three remaining brothers and myself and my cousin went up and grabbed items we "needed". By the time I got there, many of the items were gone. But I spent a few hours picking through items. I got the crystal bowl that I admired as a child and that I was told I would someday get. My cousin took the matching cake pedestal. My grandmother had set aside a number of things with our names on them, she labeled special things as to who they had belonged to or which family member had made what. She put non-sticky paper tags in photo covers that said who each person in the picture was. For as grimy and stuffed to the gills her house was, things were actually a bit organized. I will never forget the box I pulled out that was labeled, "Travel memories, throw away when I am gone".

It was sad to see the boxes and boxes of every single school paper that my mom and her brothers had ever completed going into the dumpster. We all worried about how much money was thrown away... my grandmother was notorious for hiding money. And we all wondered if we weren't throwing away old pieces of art that were just maybe a missing Rembrandt. But time... none of us had it to put towards picking through things paper by paper.

I drove off with my mom's wedding dress, some questionable valuables, a Little Black Sambo book, an original copy of Old Yeller, a blanket and pillow that my great grandmother made, the crystal bowl I wanted, a set of Depression glass with a very funky and fun pattern, photos, my grandmother's nursing service pins, and many coins of questionable worth. I packed up a stack of my mom's and my grandmother's school papers. (Me = packrat) I also grabbed my great uncle's purple heart and am hoping I can get his address and send it to him someday. I am sure he doesn't remember that my grandmother was holding it for him for some reason.

I helped my stepdad in clearing through some of my mom's stuff. I took a few of her cookbooks that I remember as a child and that held a few of my drawings as well as some of her newer cookbooks. I took her rolling pins and her good pie pans, her sweater from Ireland, some nice outdoor wear, loads of fancy soaps, lots of Aveda products (we both have a weak spot for anything labeled Aveda) and some jewelry.

Clearing out both houses provided very different experiences. Clearing my grandmother's house was enjoyable, an adventure coupled with a little fear of reaching my hand into each box. She has had a long and good, active life with a lot of accomplishments. Helping her on to that last stage in life.

Clearing my mother's house is bittersweet as I held items in my hands that I knew my mother still had dreams of using. Things that she should still be using. Helping my stepdad move onto the next phase of his life.

1 comment:

vanessa said...

April, I wish we could help more. What a moving post about vastly contrasting experiences.