October 13, 2010
It’s Wednesday morning and Mom’s service is tomorrow. Mollie and I are sort of “powering” through this process I guess you could say. She has amazing energy, drive and the stamina to get things done. I generally do too, this feels a little strange though. I just try to keep moving and keep up with her.
We’re going from one room to the next. Opening cupboards and drawers and closets and going through my Mother’s life. We started with her closet in her bedroom. It’s amazing what someone will save. What we decide to keep over the years and what clues might be told about us from these things. Some of it is probably random. But some of it, I think, indicates parts of our lives that were particularly precious or meaningful. Things we want to remember as we travel through our lives.
Mom has a number of mink coats or stoles in her closet. Not full length, but a couple of sort of shawl style minks and another mid-length. The mid-length has a matching mink hat. There is a black hat that feels softer than mink, with a little collar. Anyway, this is a generational thing. I never would have ever, ever considered, of course, having, wanting, much less wearing a mink stole. But there they were, sitting in Mom’s closet on a 90 degree day in Southern California.
There were a few distinctive outfits that we could recognize from over the years. Some sizes so small Mom couldn’t have worn them for decades. There are those outfits we get in life, at least for women I think, that represent something about ourselves when we felt at our best somehow. Maybe the perfect size, or the perfect evening, a memorable event. There are memories attached and self image issues that we want to hold on to. Physical evidence that we wore that size, and really looked THAT GOOD!
There was a particularly psychedelic one piece, 70’s style jumpsuit, with coolot type legs. I actually think it’s in style again. Mollie took that since she’s Mom’s height, I told her she could dress up as a 70’s housewife or something. Go to a “key party”. She doesn’t know what that is. :-) Anyway, there was a jacket and pants that Mollie remembers Mom wearing when we were small children. We ended up with one box of things I would consider sort of vintage and we’ll take that to a special consignment shop to see if there is any interest in it.
Then there are just drawers and drawers full of personal items, things stuck away and forgotten about. Things that may mean something in some cases, but we don’t know what. Downstairs there were cabinets full of china and glass and silver serving trays. Things that belonged to one of our Grandmothers’ or were Mom’s. Things to entertain with. Our military and southern roots dictate a lot of history of entertaining. Some things are really for larger gatherings and larger houses than we will ever have. Like 50 punch cups packed in a special box, each separately wrapped. And so we struggle about what to do with many items. Where should they go? If we can’t keep them are they worth selling? How can we sell them? The fact that Mom saved them all of these years would indicate that we should treat them with some reverence, right?
Some things we know have special history. For instance, some items came from the farm in Mississippi where Dad grew up. Then there are the little china plates that were painted by our great Grandmother, Mom’s Grandmother, who was ill most of her adult life and found quiet hobbies. Wedgewood China settings for the table that were our Grandmother’s. Multiple sets of crystal wine glasses. Beautiful stuff. How much of this can we use?
Finally we end up going through the things that were in her sort of office/hobby room. Bags of things full of supplies for craft projects she started or lost interest in over the years. Some that had their day and there were just leftover supplies. For years she played with gold leaf materials and covered wood boxes with interesting prints and then gold leafed them. There were knitting projects and old Christmas cards saved for these pom-pom ball adorned, sort of card chandeliers she made for a few years. Gobs of sewing materials. Pieces of felt, knitted little chicks Mollie will give to her grandkids. Prints of this or that, that she saved. Maybe she was going to paint them or decoupage them. After a while everything runs together and you start to even lose some patience. A huge stack of newspapers that my Grandfather probably saved. Front pages that he found particularly significant. Of course, all of this is on microfilm or on-line somewhere now. I don’t know, maybe I better go dig those out of the trash and see what my Grandfather wanted to remember, wanted someone to remember.
Mom was creative. She was most talented in her paintings. Those are on the wall and we’ll each take a couple of them and keep them up on our walls to remember this part of our Mom. A part that was hers and had nothing to do with her children or her husband. Her talent, her creations.
At the back of the room of piles of things we had to go through were her own photo albums and scrap books. After we had gone through so many other things that she had saved of her parents and her Grandparents’ history, there was Mom’s own life. College, young married life. Different houses. Her life with John. A large wood box with just piles and piles of photographs from over the years. Many of our years together in Lake Arrowhead.
So you can only really examine so much. Some things you have to just close up the box and hope to spend more time with it later. Because we really only have a couple of days to be ready for the service too. So we’re rummaging through Mom’s life and then trying to get ready to have her service. Too much to do in a small period of time.
But you need to use some care and patience because there are things hidden in the middle of all of this that hold important information. Mollie came across two letters that were to one of Mom’s dearest friends. Someone who lives back east who has also sent a message for her service. One letter in particular was heartbreaking. About Mom’s divorce from Dad and some pretty hurtful stuff. Things that brought back some unpleasant memories for Mollie and me. We talked about the way each of us remembered the times Mom had written about. And some related incidences. And then I wonder how this really compares to most people’s lives. There were a lot more difficult homes to grow up in. But still, there are scars. And this is all part of the process of revisiting and trying to find more perspective.
Last night we went to the movies with Kevin. It was nice to get out of the house. At one point it just hit me that it seemed like we had spent the day sort of “fast forwarding” through Mom’s life while going through her things. This duty of breaking down your parents’ home is not something you look forward to. It was not as emotionally charged as I thought it might be. But then maybe I’m in some functioning mode. Getting the job done, but not letting too much of it pierce my heart right now. These are just things. But they are things my Mother kept, wanted around her, and represented something to her, about her. And boxing them up, moving them or giving them away, all of this represents another level of the dismantling of her life, another step in Mom’s disappearance from our lives.
There are pictures of Mom as a young girl, the “glamour shot” photo of her in her bathing suit, posing just so. Groups of girlfriends goofing around. Graduation. Marriage. Gatherings and events. Smiles. Different decades of fashion and hairstyles. Kids and more kids. Different houses and neighborhoods. Pets, dinner events. Dress uniforms and special occasions.
I think if I dwell on it too much it just makes my heart break more. Pragmatically, this is what we do in life. We have to say good bye and move on. But to revisit a lifetime in a day or two is hard to absorb. This was my Mother’s life. These were the things that in some ways represent what filled her time and mind and heart for 73 years. Part of you feels like you need to save and remember every single piece of her.
We want to remember. Remember everything about this person that was such a huge part of our lives. But those remembrances really remain burned in our hearts and minds. And we find ways to keep them alive. Stories, pictures, home movies, recipes and even a few audio recordings. The memories and stories will keep her in our hearts and lives. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the not so beautiful moments we shared.
Next step - Honor Thy Mother.
I will do my best. We will all do our best.