I spent this past weekend tackling the achingly arduous task of cleaning out my parent’s house of the last 40 years. Two years ago my mom and dad both died within months of each other and my sister and I have put off this chore, mostly because of being busy with work, families and life in general, but I’m sure partly because neither of us wanted to admit that they are gone and now it’s time to move on.
Going through every closet and drawer and cabinet in the house (not to mention the basement that must have 500 pounds of nails and screws that my dad could never throw away) makes us have to admit that this part of our life is over and will never be the same again. The task of cleaning out after someone has died brings back many memories from your own life thus far, and you find yourself laughing and crying and then wondering “Why on earth did I ever give them this thing as a gift?” as you cart out box after box of things that now no one knows what to do with.
As I’ve written before my parents were not travelers. They had no desire to explore the United States, let alone the big wide world. Still not sure where my wanderlust gene came from. I think my dad saw enough during his Army days in the late 1940s and after he returned home, that was that. They never lived anywhere else except the small town in northeast Georgia where I was born. Their entire family didn’t reach much beyond a couple hundred miles radius. Their home was their oasis, their touchstone, where they lived their lives and raised their two girls and grew old together and took care of each other.
My mom was that proverbial person whose floor you could eat off. I’ve known for a few decades that I got that trait from her because my house is pretty spotless too. I hope I’m not too compulsive about it, I just know it makes me feel better when things are clean and organized. And my mother taught me to cook when I was a child, I’ll never forget standing next to her on a step stool so I could reach the countertop and help stir something in a bowl or roll out biscuit dough. I thank God every day for that, because cooking for myself and others is something I love, never mind that it comes in handy because I also love to eat. Some of her favorite handwritten recipes are now priceless treasures to me. Despite our technological advances, I think everyone should leave a few handwritten recipes behind.
My dad was Mr. Fix It, he could repair anything and had a talent for making something out of nothing. He believed in hard work and that everyone had to pull their own weight. My father was responsible for me getting my first job at age 15 when he came home one day and told me he saw a sign in the window of a photography studio in town, Help Wanted. I knew there was no other option than to go and apply, so I did and I got the job, and I worked there my last three years of high school. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me because I learned so many valuable lessons that have served me well to this day.
You realize when going through all the “things” left behind that what matters most are all the old photographs. You’re never prepared for the number of pictures you discover that span a life of over 80 years. We finally had to stop ourselves from going through box after box of old photographs or we knew we’d never finish the task at hand. I wonder what will happen with future generations, when everything is digital and when families are cleaning out and they won’t have old black and white or faded color photos to touch and reminisce over. The smell of yesterday and of old love and fond memories just won’t be the same when viewed on a computer or a phone.
I have no idea who this man is in this photo with me and my sister, but I just love that he has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth with two little girls by his side.
Sometimes I wish I could have known my parents when they were this age. What did they think about, what did they laugh about, what made them cry? What were their dreams and aspirations? The one thing I do know is that I will be forever grateful to them and thankful. Two lives well lived. And memories that will be with me forever.