Yesterday was a parent day. (I label my days by activity – parent, cooking, grandboy, etc. I’m smart like that.) On Parent Day I visit my parents. I usually do this 1-2 times per week, depending on what they need. Some weeks they have doctor appointments that I must take them to. Other times we run errands, or I do some tasks around their house that they need help with. And sometimes it’s just my mother and me going for mani/pedis. We almost always go to lunch in the dining room over in the main building at Aldersgate. They really enjoy having family to show off. (So many people seem to never have guests, which makes me sad.) I really try to not be in a rush when I am there, giving them my undivided attention for a few hours.
This visit we tackled some boxes. While we were in Lubbock for my uncle’s funeral I had packed and shipped several large boxes of family mementos from his home. We have slowly been unpacking those, a couple boxes at a time, and trying to find a home for every item. This is a harder task than it sounds because my parents’ independent living home at Aldersgate is not that big and space is at a premium. My brother and I claimed a few items but my mother wanted the bulk of it. Now, I have alluded to the fact that our family has a tiny hoarding problem. We struggle to part with our stuff, being a very sentimental bunch. But my mother takes it to the next level….for good reason. As I’ve mentioned many times, my parents lost most of their belongings in Hurricane Harvey. This makes my mother particularly vulnerable to “stuff”. She is scared to let go of anything. And I don’t have the heart to put my foot down and say NO MORE.
I’ll be the first to say that the hurricane actually took care of an onerous task for us by weeding out a lot of stuff that our family would have eventually had to sort and make decisions about. But some of that stuff we admittedly mourn, like family furniture pieces and photos. And there was also a bunch of stuff that we were able to salvage like china, silver, and lots of “hard” bric-a-brac, things that didn’t absorb water. A team of as many as 20 people spent days and days drying, sorting, and packing up these items for shipment to NC. It’s was a very hectic time and every item we saved felt like a victory. But the outcome on this end was a whole lot of plastic tubs full of all that stuff in no particular order. China mixed with the odd vase or bookend or Christmas ornament. Baking dishes packed with a salvaged lamp base packed with crystal packed with bronzed baby booties. Every tub is a surprise!
I will confess here that not everything is a family heirloom. My mother had a serious estate sale habit. She and her partner in crime, Joann Cannon, loved nothing more than to head out, newspaper in hand, on the hunt for the best estate sales. I actually often complained to my mother that when she died we will have lost track of what was a family heirloom and what was someone else’s family heirloom.
Of course, as those boxes have been unpacked over the last couple of years (it’s been a slow process), my mother wants to find a spot for every piece. And there’s just not room. Over the months we have purchased a china cabinet, a lovely glass fronted secretary, another glass display cabinet, a corner cabinet, and a bookcase, all now full to the brim. My father, with diminishing carpentry skills (yikes!), has built three more display shelves to run along the tops of the sunroom and breakfast nook. I have climbed the step-stool many times to rearrange as we add more stuff. And there are still boxes in their carport to be unpacked.
So, to this madness, we have added the shipment from Lubbock. Of course, my mother is grieving the loss of her brother, which has also made her revisit the loss of her parents. Every item we unpack has a memory attached, and I’m happy to let her tell me about those memories. She is reliving some very dear times with each piece pulled from the box. These items give her comfort, be it some letters from her uncle to his mother, or a silly “mustache” cup given to my uncle by my grandmother.
Thankfully, my mother is no longer buying other people’s stuff. I have not indulged her estate sale habit. But I know the day will come when I will be faced with either keeping or letting go of every single thing in my parents’ home. I take it as a huge responsibility to preserve our family history without hanging on to every last piece of paper or knitted baby cap. I see an estate sale in my future…..Anyone in the market for someone else’s family heirlooms?