Sept 12, 2011
Mom would have been 91 today. On Friday, Daddy has been gone 10 months. That was the day we unloaded the truck.
My house is full of boxes and bags, furniture from the old house, papers, pictures, and tapes (audio, 8 mm, Super 8, High 8, VHS, and Beta Max). I have been washing linens and blankets for 2 days. Yesterday I did 8 loads.
One of the reasons for the flurry of washing goes beyond the ancestral urge to do laundry. My rooms smell musty like closets filled with sheets and towels which have not been unfolded in more than a decade. After Mom died, I think my dad just washed the same set of sheets and put them back on his bed. Most of the stuff looks untouched. I know he never used the tablecloths.
With boxes from the old house in every room of my home, I could feel overwhelmed. I don’t. I’m strangely comforted. I know the old house is empty—its contents sold or given to churches and Good Will. What I’ve taken away are the physical reminders of my youth, the patterns and colors and tools my parents loved, and the years of my adult life I spent in that house caring for my mom and dad. There is comfort in washing and cleaning, refolding, giving these trusty servants a new life. Revere Ware pots with worn knobs and discolored sides, chipped Apple pattern plates, the heavy ceramic blue mixing bowl—they remind me of my mom and dad. When I touch these old, mundane things, I am touching them. It gives me pleasure to put these items back into service. I think of the scene from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” where the servants (now turned into household items) are so delighted to be able to serve a guest once more. In my home they will have a new setting, and when they pass to my sons and grandchildren, they will carry their legacy with them, for I will tell their stories. I was there. I remember.
My friends say the same thing. Lynne has her grandma’s roasting pan. That’s all she took from the house. Dale has his mother’s toaster. They took the things that they could use, and that they remember seeing their loved one use often. They are the treasures that have no value to anyone else. It’s an intimate kind of worth, profound and private.
This morning, in the freshness of the early hours that are beginning to hint at autumn, I also remembered that my mother worried that the bump on her leg would turn to cancer and she would not live to see her girls grow up. She never did get cancer in that lump. My father did not worry about how he would die. He said when it’s your time, it’s your time and nothing can change that. And when it’s not, you will survive whatever comes. He had been nearly electrocuted when he was a young man, and he had cancer in 1993 and, after his surgery, it did not return.
But I worried. All my life I thought he would die in a fiery car crash (most likely, with us in the car with him). There were good reasons to think that, since he drove aggressively with only scant inches of clearance at times. I was terrified for decades, though he never hit anything—until the day he backed into my son John’s fence. He was in his late eighties. There were other horrors—angry honking from behind after he changed lanes without noticing the car in the lane to his right. He was pretty deaf by then and never noticed—but I did, and it frightened me. Every time he changed lanes, I braced for the crash. It never happened.
I feared that my dad would fall off the roof or get stuck in the elevator (Mom hated stairs, so my dad had an elevator installed to go one floor up to the “ham shack” he decided to add to the top of the house). He did get stuck in it a couple of years ago. It was between floors, but he had planned ahead with a means to open the upstairs door, climbed out, and (because there were no ladders or ropes) looped an electrical cord around a vent and rappelled off the roof. Gleefully he told me he had lost only a couple of buttons off his pajamas and scraped up his hands a bit. He was about 92.
After that I worried about his sanity and good judgment. Without Mom to balance and guard, he had no governor. She would not have let him go climbing around on the roof or eat on Chinese buffet several times a week.
Daddy had his fears too—that they would take away his driver’s license. “How will I get around?” he worried. Of everything that could have besieged his elder years, that was the one he feared most. He worried about the collapse of the economy, race wars with the illegal aliens who kept sneaking across the border, the moral collapse of the country, the indigent young, the unemployment that was sure to hit like a plague. None of that came to pass in his lifetime. He passed away quietly in his sleep, and with his passing went all my fears for his sanity and safety.
In a week, it will be my husband Dennis’ birthday. He has now been gone ten months and two weeks. Every day I use things he taught me about healing and human relationships. For twenty years we pioneered microcurrent with my dad. I’m still teaching their methods to new, eager minds.
This time of year is a kind of convergence of birth dates and death dates—a time of refocusing as with a camera lens. I remember the fears that never came to pass and understand that it is a waste of time to worry. No one knows what the future will bring. I remember the feel and smell of sheets fresh from the dryer that is still exactly the same. I remember the words from a lifetime of lectures and admonishments, exhortations and encouragements along with the every day exchanges we spoke by habit until my mom was so terribly ill. Then the sweetest words we could say at the end of the day were, “See you tomorrow.”
I cannot see them tomorrow, but I will again, in Heaven. That is my expectation and my joy. In the meantime, surrounded by their things, I am taking what they’ve left for me and making it mine. This is the Daily Divine.
Alice TregoSeptember 12, 2011 - 10:22 PM
What a nice homage to your parents and husband, Carolyn.
As I read your piece, I was reminded of my step-grandmother’s ice cream scoop that eased its way through really frozen ice cream whenever she fixed me a bowl full, and her special stainless steel mixer she used when baking her delicious desserts.
I have both of those items. I claimed the ice cream scoop from my sister and my cousins, none of them aware of the special meaning this small implement held for me. I share my love of baking with my step-grandmother and each time I take out her mixer, it’s like she’s standing next to me, sharing her recipes that she never wrote down.
Carolyn Wing GreenleeSeptember 12, 2011 - 10:37 PM
Thank you for letting me see you and your memories. It blesses me to know that you have precious, well-used items from special people in your life. We are privileged to have both the items and the good memories. True treasures.
Kathleen ErnstSeptember 12, 2011 - 2:16 PM
Lovely post, Carolyn. I have many mementos of my grandparents, but I particularly treasure a plastic mug my grandfather used to use.
Carolyn Wing GreenleeSeptember 12, 2011 - 9:28 PM
Kathleen, it makes me smile to think of you drinking from your grandfather’s plastic mug. How precious are those simple things! How ennobled they become when paired with the memory of one well-loved!