It’s been a busy few months. I’ve written recently about work travel, and trying to get The Incident Under the Overpass launched this summer, but I’ve been pretty quiet about putting my mom’s house on the market. Which is another thing that’s been happening.
My parents built this house—the one we all grew up in—back in 1961. And they both had a hard time getting rid of anything. Mom did some moderate clearing out after Dad died in 2000. But she still left behind a house full of memories and artifacts from not just their own lives, but also their parents, and seven children, and thirteen grandkids.
My siblings and I have been taking our time sorting through things since Mom died eighteen months ago. And we had an estate sale a few months ago, which was a major step forward in our efforts toward clearing out more than fifty years worth of stuff.
But now we have a hard and fast deadline. We put the house on the market on June 6, and got an offer the same day. So the house is currently under contract, and the closing is imminent. Which means that everything must go.
The deadline has helped. There have been multiple passes at the mounds of paperwork and assorted sundries, so what’s left is significantly less than what was there before. But we’ve now lost the luxury of “later.” For the stuff that was put aside before, saying, “I’ll look at this later.” Because it either pulled some heartstring that wasn’t ready to be pulled, or because we thought what my parents must have thought: “there might be need for this someday.”
There were a couple of discoveries this past weekend, that have helped me examine my own (inherited?) tendency to hang onto things for too long. One was a bathroom sink and cabinet that my father apparently couldn’t bear to part with. It was the one for the blue bathroom, part of the 1966 addition to the house. It was removed when my parents did a remodel in the mid ‘90s.
I’m not sure if Dad intended to install that sink at his weekend retreat, The Point. The Point was named after Harry Nilsson’s recording of the same name. It was a plot of land in the deep woods about forty minutes north of New Orleans; and it had some rustic dwellings on it, mostly patched together by my father. Stuff that wore out its useful life at our house in Metairie would often wind up at The Point.
But Dad had to have been in the midst of one his occurrences of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by the time he stowed it away. The blue bathroom sink would never meet The Point. Still, something compelled him to have it stored on a nearly- hidden shelf in the garage.
It’s a compulsion that I see in my own actions, too. But I hope, after this weekend, that I’ll think long and hard before stashing something so bulky and awkward in a hard-to-reach place.
The other thing I found was more poignant, and significantly less cumbersome. In a bathroom cabinet (that was still in use and attached to its fixture), I found plastic tubs of sculpting clay. My mother used to sculpt, little figurines, mostly; small and gentle creations, much like herself.
I’m not certain, but the clay might have still been usable. I’m sure that’s why Mom had it stashed away. I seem to recall that you could add water, and the clay would become pliable. But I’m also not certain whether sculpting clay has an expiration. It had to have been at least eight years, if not more, since my mother last sculpted anything.
And the stuff in those tubs felt pretty hard and unyielding. So—the deadline and all—I tossed it.
But it’s all got me feeling pretty philosophical. In this last round of clearing, it feels like so much of what we found is just that: clay. Things that, with a little love and effort, could have been shaped into something of value. Whether it was actual clay, or greeting cards, or clippings, or sinks—there must have been some intrinsic potential that my parents could see. I have to believe that’s why they hung onto these things. And it feels like there’s something noble about that.
I hope that I can be just as noble about not letting go of potential. I just hope to be a little more circumspect about it. 🙂