Within the walls of the house where I grew up, resides an abundance of happy memories. But, of course, we had our share of sad ones, too. My parents built their house in the late nineteen fifties, partly from recycled wood they obtained from an abandoned building that was being torn down in our hometown. My little brother, Mike, and I created endless adventures and a fun-filled childhood in our cozy home. It truly was so much more than just a house. To us, it was a castle.
For over six decades there were constant gatherings with friends and family, as well as every type of joyful or sorrowful event a family encounters throughout the years. I was married on the front deck of my parent’s house in 1980. Mike passed away in that house in 2002. We watched my parents grow old and frail in the home they worked so hard to create. Five years ago, my dad left his beloved home for the last time, and recently, my mom joined him in their Heavenly home.
With both of my parents gone, the difficult decision was made to sell this cherished family home. I knew it was the right thing to do. But, selling also meant removing everything from the house and the grounds. I was not prepared for the avalanche of emotions and despair that would also accompany this enormous undertaking.
Decades of living and reminiscences of all aspects of their lives occupied every drawer, every closet, hung on the walls and adorned every piece of furniture. Each little memento I picked up, or every small piece of paper, reminded me of an event from my past. All the decisions I had to make about what to do with every object were made with tears of despair.
I wanted to keep everything. There were handwritten grocery lists in either mom’s or dad’s handwriting. File cabinets filled with papers they had saved for one reason or another. Old newspaper articles and hundreds of pictures of family members, friends and people I didn’t know. Countless souvenirs from trips they’d taken over the course of the sixty-six years they were married were tucked away wherever there was space. And, of course, all the childhood keepsakes from my brother, my children and myself. Plus, eight rooms of furniture, artwork, dining and kitchen essentials, and everything else that accumulates in the course of lives fully lived for so many years.
To my parents, all the possessions in their home had a meaning, and were important or treasured. To me, they were things linking me to the family members I’d lost and loved so very dearly and missed every single day. Realistically, I knew I couldn’t hold on to everything. There was actually very little I was able to keep. I hoped my children and adult grandchildren would take most of the items. But, like myself, they all have houses overflowing with things they have chosen and purchased for themselves. With the exception of some paintings, a few dishes and some unique pieces of art, the used furnishings and most of my parent’s older things had no appeal to them. And, I completely understood.
So, began the hard task of tossing away, selling, or donating all the things I was not able to cram into my storage unit or tuck away in the already-crowded corners of my own home. One day was especially difficult as I watched the enormous dining room table and chairs being hauled away in the back of a stranger’s truck. So many family dinners, holiday feasts, birthday celebrations, serious conversations and life-changing decisions had been shared around that heavy wooden table, while sitting in those matching chairs. Tears were shed daily as more pieces of furniture or boxes of household goods were hauled away.
Another difficult task was letting go of a gigantic houseplant my mom had inherited from her mother when she and my dad were first married. We estimated the plant to be close to a hundred years old. It had taken over an entire corner and half of two walls in my parent’s large dining room. When it bloomed, the exquisite blossoms were a brilliant shade of pink and hung like colossal bunches of grapes from the branches. Mom and dad loved this massive angel wing begonia, and even though all of us felt the same emotion for this beautiful plant, none of us had room enough for a potted plant of this immense size. After getting cuttings for everyone who wanted a starter, I gifted the original plant to a very dear family friend who had an entire room dedicated to her beloved plants, and also had room for our huge begonia. We knew she would care for it and love it as much as our family had for so many years. It took a U-haul truck and four people to move this mammoth plant, and I’m not going to lie, saying goodbye to another living thing from my parent’s home was extremely difficult.
My dad was exceptionally proud of their lovely yard. Every spare second he had in the summer was spent working in the numerous flower gardens, mowing the grass, and caring for the forty-nine trees he and mom had planted in the past six decades. He could tell you every variety of tree, and where they had gotten each one of them. All of the pines, aspens, willows and cottonwoods had started out as a branch or two from a tree from down by the river that flows below the house, or from one of our many favorite campsites in the wilderness where we had camped throughout the years. So, not only is it amazing how they had all grown to be so towering and lush, but they are also associated with lots of fun family camp trips and an endless source of happy memories.
Unlike the rest of trees, Dad’s two apple trees came from a local nursery, and were particularly spectacular. Standing side by side on the southern edge of the yard, they became heavily-laden with juicy red and golden fruit at the end of the summer season. As well as snacking on these sweet delights, Mom and I would bake apple pies, apple cobbler, make apple wine, apple everything until we were baked out or the apples ran out…whatever came first. When I picked several bushels last summer and baked my usual abundance of apple treats, I had no idea it would be the last time we would be enjoying the scrumptious fruits of these very special trees.
Not one day of the month I spent doing this emotionally-filled task was conducted without a barrage of tears. I came away depressed and saddened by the entire experience. And, the month since finishing this heart-wrenching task has been spent trying to get past these deep feelings of loss. It’s an extension of the grief I felt when my family members passed away, and I know everyone has to go through something similar to what I’ve experienced when they lose their parents or loved ones. Each thing you do after someone passes, having a memorial, donating or giving away their belongings, selling their home, etc., etc., is supposed to be closure so we, the living, can move on. I understand this circle of life theory. But, for me, the reality of letting go has not been so easy.
As I look around at my own home full of all the items I’ve lovingly collected and accumulated in my lifetime, I realize now that most of it will only be stuff my children and grandchildren will probably have to get rid of when I’m gone. I hope for their sakes, they are able to let go of all my baggage more easily than I have been to do with my parent’s things. Because, now I realize there is something much more valuable than all this ‘stuff’.
As this difficult experience is finally in the rear-view mirror, and my childhood home now belongs to a new family with young children who will undoubtedly fill it with another lifetime full of happy memories, I have been reminded of something my sorrow had made me forget for a time Those boxes of old keepsakes I saved from my parent’s home aren’t the real treasures. What really matters is what I will always have stored in my heart…the cherished recollections of the beautiful life I shared with my parents and little brother, the invaluable lessons they taught me by way of their integrity and strength, and above all, the unconditional love they bestowed upon me every moment of every day we spent together. There are no worldly possessions that can even begin to compare to this kind of wealth.