You’ve heard the term “A month of Sundays”, right?
Well, having finally gotten Mum into the care of a rest home, it’s taken me two months of Saturdays, plus any available time outside of that to clear out her and Dad’s old place.
It’s meant less time spent with my wife and daughter and even less time still spent on myself, which has been wearing me down faster than anything else.
It’s been very hard, dusty, heart-breaking, priceless and vastly under-valued work.
It was never going to be an easy task, but with the help of my wife on a couple weekends when the “outlaws” looked after our daughter we managed to get the job done.
When I say “hard” I don’t necessarily mean physical.
While there was a fair bit of heavy lifting involved, the hardest part was the simple fact it was essentially emptying out and dismantling keystones of memory in the house I grew up in.
I’ve gotten in trouble with my wife for calling it “home” in recent months, as we now have our own piece of New Zealand. But you can’t help but refer to the place you lived the first twenty-plus years of your life as “my home”.
So much stuff that I grew up with was still there.
In a lot of cases I mean that literally – There were packets of herbs and spices in the back of cupboards that were as old as I am!
There were quite a few keepsakes – photos, family heirlooms, mementos and the like I couldn’t bear to part with, but there was also a lot of stuff that, while it had no major sentimental value, did have a commercial value. It’s just a crying shame it was such a small value.
Chairs, tables and vases. Books I learned from and developed my thirst for knowledge. The crockery and cutlery that had fed me for over twenty years – all things that had been around me my whole younger life and were now no use to me, having plenty of my own in our own home needed to be sold, so we called in antiques and second hand dealers.
While we made a reasonable amount of money to put back into mum’s bank account, and while most of the stuff was “retro” and “vintage”, rather than desirable, expensive “antique” it still felt like they were worth so much more than what we got for them.
While I would understand or more readily accept a “buy for $5, sell for $10” policy, the predominant tactic of “buy for $5, sell for $15 or $20” left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
It seems commerce has no sense of sentimentality.
Other stuff, like clothes and random chattels, we donated to the Cranford Hospice Shop and St Vincent DePaul.
But in the majority of cases, like those herbs and spices, it was a matter of “get rubbish bag, open cupboard / drawer, tip entire contents of cupboard / drawer into rubbish bag, chuck on trailer, repeat”.
That happened so much I’m now practically on first name basis with the security guard lady at the dump!
One of the tasks that unexpectedly cut the deepest was the simple act of getting the phone disconnected.
The phone number I had committed to memory my entire life, the means by which company, conversation, consolation, congratulation and FAMILY was only a few button presses away is now greeted with a blank, “beep, beep, beep” dial tone.
I can no longer “phone home”.
Going through old boxes of stuff, especially Dad’s things, yielded many great memories and items. A lot of them tinged with sadness that he is no longer here to tell me the stories behind them.
I found a metal cash box / deposit box under a chest of drawers and I guess it spoke volumes about what Mum and Dad valued most.
There were no share bonds for Apple or Microsoft from the early 1980’s or gold ingots in this little box. No papers linking me to royal lineage, untold wealth or some mysterious twin I had never known.
In this box were well-wishers’ cards from Mum and Dad’s wedding, the registration papers for my first car (a Ford Anglia Dad helped me buy and get running) and report cards from my first years at primary school.
Family memories – far more valuable than anything else.
Friends of ours are now renting Mum and Dad’s old house, my old home.
They are taking care of it – doing the gardens, cleaning up the remaining bits and pieces we didn’t get to.
My wife, daughter and I went over there for lunch the other day and it’s so heartening to see the place being LIVED in again, as opposed to being merely existed in, as Mum had done since Dad passed away.
We kept some of the furniture in parts of the house like the kitchen, where there isn’t much space and the chairs and table Mum and Dad had there fitted perfectly.
Out of sheer habit, I sat in the place I’ve always sat in at that table as we had our lunch. When the others went back outside I just sat there by myself for a while.
I could hear Dad tinkering in the garage.
I could hear Mum cleaning in the sitting room.
I smiled to myself and shed a tear.