My grandmother just moved into an assisted-living center. It’s a nice place, the staff is great and she was the one who ultimately decided it was time so everything is generally acceptable. By my count, this is the fourth time she’s moved since she left the house after my grandfather died, and each time she’s had to shuck more things; not an easy thing for someone who’s a bit of a hoarder by nature.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was the motto of her generation, so nothing was ever parted with lightly. Bales of wire hangers from the dry-cleaners; stacks of empty Cool Whip containers (some even with lids), enough to stage a road show of the “500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins with plastic bowls as hats; plus many other treasures with stories that still have some miles left on them. Each move was like peeling off another layer or two of husk and now we’re down to the kernel and cob, with a few wisps of silk. The new place is the smallest yet and she’s down to the essentials, with still a few eccentricities such as the radio that hasn’t worked in no one knows how long. Some things were questioned during the pack-up but there is no one else in the family who can say they know what it is like to walk into a new room and know that it is this far and no further, last stop, and so slack is given.
The things left behind just don’t dissolve away, of course. When I was down there earlier this month Grammy’s previous apartment was still half-full of “things” that needed to be dealt with. It was like preparing for an estate sale, or hearing the reading of the will, but without someone dieing first. Still sad, though. “Dishes are going here, linens with so-and-so. What do you want? What can you take?” It’s almost overwhelming to me, seeing it for the first time, but my parents have been looking at it for weeks.
“What do you want? What can you take?“
My wife and daughters and I roam the rooms, lifting, turning, trying to imagine what we might do with this or how we’d use that. For the ladies it’s just so much stuff; there’s little here that they’ve ever seen or had a connection to. I’m using my eyes and my memory, looking for something to take away that has extra meaning. In a closet I find a couple of hats of a kind that my grandfather wore when gardening. My heart races as I pick them up, but they’re just hats. There isn’t any dirt or sweat stains on them, and they don’t smell like him. They’re just hats and I put them back on the shelf. I do end up with a few things, and my daughters find some jewelry they like. Patience finds some hats that look just funky enough for her. Faith picks up some linen napkins and some old lamps for her trousseau – transferring things from this last apartment that will ultimately go in a first apartment. My wife scores some cookie sheets and Tupperware and a huge measuring cup. It is just about all that we can fit in the car, yet it seems as if the stacks left in the rooms are barely diminished. Still plenty of room for ghosts, though, and everything must go eventually.
“What do you want? What can you take, please?”
We all go along all through our lives picking up things we want or have to have, generally parting only with the things that wear out or break down. Sure, we know that certain things are hopelessly out of style, or will never be used again, but we’ll deal with them “later” when we have “more time.” It all stretches out behind and around us as if we’re so many Marleys and we’re all so used to it that we hardly notice. It makes me wonder what my kids will want when I get to that place with no closet space. Will someone take the leather jacket? The golf clubs? The Monty Python tapes?
What will they want? What can they take?