This post violates the format of Bye-Bye Nesquik, because I failed to read much this week. I also failed to cook, unless we can count pouring green milk on my Lucky Charms this morning.
No, this week has been a rarity, sorting through dusty boxes of old pants, picking through stuffed scrapbooks of family pictures, weighing the value of old VHS tapes, marriage certificates and other little evidences that people leave behind.
What to save? What to let go? This is how my sisters and I spent the week. We read bits of letters out loud, uncovering new clues, raising new questions. Do you think those childhood radium treatments are what gave our sister the cancer that killed her? Do you think the run on the grocery stores at the start of the Korean War was what pushed our mother overboard on food storage?
To clean out a person's house after they are gone is to discover what they were. Mother was a person who clung. She clung to the many skeins of yarn, fodder for more projects than she could ever complete. She clung to church talks, believing she would listen to them again on reel-to-reel tape. She clung to letters, organizing them by writer and year written, making it easier for us make sense of their sheer volume. She clung to her money ("Is there enough? I'm sure I'm running out"), her ideas (some useful, some not), and especially to her house. We tried to take her away from it, but she refused to go.
Now, the house that was built so cleverly to suit her needs stands empty of the personality that made its rules and ran its routines. When she was there, farm dirt never crossed the threshold and grandkids never got more than one toy at a time out of the closet. When she was gone, we snacked in the living room and tossed pictures of her school chums, all while looking uneasily over our shoulders.
It's not that I visited her house often. Nor do I regret staying away so much. I just want to remember an era that is already long-gone. I want to know how the family corn roasts and the odd years when Uncle Such-and-Such found work in Alaska fit into the bigger picture. My people can look at the larger world, at its wars, its top-40 tunes and its ceaseless press of people reaching for something better, and regard it all as something that doesn't touch them. But it does. It buffets them about just as much it buffets people in Ottawa and Orlando.
And so, as the letters and pictures passed through my hands this week, I plucked up ephemera to take away with me. I will want to remember that Mother stood at the stove like that. I will want to remember the rocky wasteland where Dad grew up. I will want to remember how Aunt So-and-So sounded before it all went wrong.
Didn't I come here, resolved to sort and dump and take nothing away? Oh, no, can't weigh down the suitcase. Uh-uh, no way could I ship that thing home. Then what am I doing at the post office, sealing all this ephemera in boxes and handing over my credit card?
I think we have more than one woman who clings.