I spent Friday afternoon in Chehalis, Washington, with my two sisters, one brother-in-law, and my niece and great-niece, cleaning out my mother’s storage unit so we can stop paying for it every month. Saturday was dedicated to sorting through all of the boxes.
Last summer, when we moved Mom out of her apartment, and into a care facility near Hood Canal, we were hopeful that she would regain some ground and perhaps have another apartment, if only in an Assisted Living facility. We hoped she’d once again have a version of the independence she had enjoyed before her stroke. Even then, I think we knew it was a fantasy. In any case, it was a fantasy that allowed us to postpone a lot of decisions.
In addition to much of her remaining furniture (at least we had already downsized from the farmhouse to a one-bedroom apartment!), we had to wade through boxes and boxes of knick-knacks, clothes, and pictures. Mom used to be a size 18; now she’s about a 12, if that. So the clothes went to Good Will. The knick-knacks and pictures were more difficult.
My spell checker keeps telling me that “knick” is not a word, but when I looked it up I found this:
a small worthless object, especially a household ornament.
Gewgaw? Trifle? Gimcrack? Worthless to some people, perhaps, but not to my mother. Of course there were a lot of strange things — keys no one recognized, for instance. But what does one do with little glass carnival-glass bowls that your grandfather bought, when he was a boy, for his mother? What about the bracelet my dad brought home from China in 1950? Or the sugar bowl that belonged to Grandma? Oh, and how about the bar of soap with which our grandmother washed the body of the infant she lost at 3 months?
When we cleaned out the farmhouse, three years ago, Mom kept saying, “Your Dad and I never threw anything away.” I repeated this a few times over the course of the two days, but no one laughed.
My favorite part of the entire proceeding was romping up and down the sidewalk in front of the storage unit with my four-year-old great-niece on my shoulders. (Standing still was not an option: I just said, “Giddy up!”) It may have looked like work, but it got me out of a lot of the heavy lifting.
Or, my favorite part was seeing Mom’s face when my sisters and I walked into The Haven together to visit her on Saturday. She may not always remember our names, but she really lit up to see us together.
More than the trinkets, baubles, and tchotchkes are the relationships and the memories that go with them. I’m keeping all of those.