Sunday, November 21, 2010

Taking care of business is melancholy work

My brothers and I are in the process of settling my mom’s estate. There’s a little legal work, but mostly it’s a matter of going through her condo, sorting through the fog of life – clothes, jewelry and makeup; furniture, bedding and towels; kitchen appliances, plates and dinnerware.

There’s lots to go through but all such stuff is relatively easy to handle, a matter of figuring out who wants what and either selling off the rest or donating it to charity. Interestingly, it’s the items with the least value that are proving the most difficult.

Exactly what should we do with the dozens of plaques awarded to my father over the years, awards that my mother kept squirreled away in a chest of drawers after my father died and she moved from Columbus to the Land of Cotton. Do we toss the little medallions and squares of wood that honor my father for his years of service as a volunteer, his devotion to the Jewish War Veterans and other such groups?

What about the photos, the hundreds of snapshots that fill albums and frames, overflowing into desk drawers, atop coffee tables and kitchen cabinets? There are photos of family and friends, Polaroid snaps taken during outings and trips, and formal portraits of family members I’ve never met. The most interesting and intriguing are those from a different age, decades old and spotted with time, distant relatives whose stories we’ll never know.

And what about greeting cards? With a free hour to kill recently, I stopped by the condo to clear out some clutter and decided to go ahead and tackle a large bag of cards I found stuffed atop a shelf in my mom’s bedroom closet. I had opened it briefly after my mother died and decided I didn’t have the emotional energy to sort through the hundreds of greetings – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays – that my mother had been holding onto for decades.

I dug deeply into the pile and was immediately whisked back into time. I spent only a few moments actually reading the cards – some cute, most sentimental and sweet in a Hallmark sort of way. Instead, I focused on the few words of greeting and well-wishes offered by the senders – my brothers, later grandkids and their families, a few from other relatives and friends.

And what I found is that there was a certain sameness about the greetings, many offering love but little time. What was particularly interesting is that most of us signed our cards in pretty much the same way year, after year, after year. Such is life!

There were exceptions, several offering thanks, others detailing the little happenings of the day, still others offering deep words of love and affection. One interesting footnote that came from all this sorting is the discovery of a little game my parents apparently fell into years ago.

My mother sent my father a Valentine’s Day card that came with a printed message that she then added to briefly. Truth to tell, my father just wasn’t the sort of guy who was good at the card game and I’m guessing when he received the Valentine from my mother he had nothing to return. So he scribbled a few words of affection under my mother’s comments and returned the card to her. It, along with other such Valentines, was buried in the bag.

In a few weeks, perhaps a few months, all this stuff will be gone. My mother’s condo will be holding the stories of another family and their small treasures. And perhaps in a few years, I’ll be heading off from here to there when I glance over my shoulder and recall there was once something special about that place behind the strip mall on this busy street in the suburbs.

I’ll blink, and the melancholy feeling of déjà vu will linger for an instant before fading away like the morning fog on a chilly fall day.

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