Hauling the boxes of her history out to the garage, I pause long enough to drop the heavy load on the concrete floor. I listened to the resounding “whump” and then headed back in for the next load. Every little nook and cranny of her life is now exposed in a trail of artifacts that produce an illustrated map of the entire history of her mind. Piles of used postage stamps stuffed into the drawers of a hundred-year-old sewing machine along with notes and letters, piles of sewing fabric, photos of family, all nestle in one box like so many days of so many calendars all randomly jumbled into one box of life. To me it’s a confused refection of a once orderly plan.
Its difficult for my wife as it’s her history that is being parted out as well. Something as simple as a dishtowel now has the power to evoke tears; a yellowed and once precious Kodachrome slide that somehow escaped the photo box now lies on the basement floor with its reversed image carrying neither meaning nor value. It’s as lonely on the floor as my heart is for it. I continue to haul the bits and pieces with the best emotional detachment that I can muster, consoling myself with the thought that “its not about the stuff”. To her it never was about the stuff anyway, for us now the painful fingerprint we see is in the remembrances of how she regarded that stuff; every item was a gift from a loving God.
I always laughed when I saw college kids loading sofas into and onto cars that were far too small to hold the package. “Dead people furniture” is what I called it. Sofas with massive flower patterns, rocker-recliners that were finished in russet colored velour and pecan hued woods, end tables that had a scale and gloss level that proudly screamed the year 1974. There were TV trays for a generation that gave up the radio for a new event, one that did not require your imagination like the radio did but still demanded your presence. Now I was adding to that array for others to choose from, now I realized that my humor did disservice to the fingerprints that those items carried. I resolved to show a little more respect as I packed the items into my truck, offering these now dead items one last moment of meaningful and beautiful glory before they passed quickly on in anonymity.
Through the junk drawer of her life I found little tape measures that had rumbled around in her pockets, handy for measuring the length of a hem or the with of a curtain. I found countless scissors that I’d never managed to sharpen for her. Flashlights with dead batteries, huge hammers and little nails, note pads and pens that had long since lost their ability to either produce ink or carry legible message. The scrap paper notes strewn through the cavity represented the better part of ten years time in which the mind’s ability to recall lessened and the hand’s ability to hide that fact increasingly failed. It held notes that grew more visually distressed with increasingly desperate lines that underscored indecipherable codes. It was her memory’s last cry for help, only to be lost in a drawer that would be soon dropped with a “whump” on the garage floor.
We’ve nearly finished clearing this evidence of a lifetime. Some of it has come home with us, granted a reprieve for a season until that time comes when I start penning desperate notes in my mind’s last lonely cry for help. Then my children will come and see the fingerprint of my mind throughout this house, starting the cycle once again. In the garage they’ll find odd bits of wood, tools, wrappings and moldings that carry no meaning to them. In the house they’ll find countless things stuffed into odd corners, books and pictures kept that bear no relevance, they’ll hear sounds that frustrate them never realizing that they once gave comfort to me. They’ll find splatters of paint and other markings of time like the rust on a paint can from a color painted three colors ago, evidence of love once administered. They’ll find an illustrated map of Sherry and my mind, never fully understanding that the beauty of what we’ve left for them to box and distribute is fact, our requiem. The very act of clearing this debris is not just a task; it’s become a gentle way for them to let go of us as we are letting go of her, body and soul, one meaningful bit at a time.