Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wordful Wednesday - I am the Keeper of Things

This is a photograph of a corner of my living room.  As some of you know, my grandfather recently passed away.  His birthday is in a couple of weeks - he would have been 94!!  He lived a long and full life and I miss him, and my grandmother (who passed away nearly 2 years ago) every day.

Now that they are both gone, the family did what families need to do, and we went through their belongings making sure that important items and furniture went to those in the family who wanted or needed items.  We then had an estate sale for the rest of the things.  It wasn't easy, seeing my grandparents belongings carried away out the front and back doors of the house. 

What made that a trifle bit easier to bear was the knowledge that some of those items went to people who needed them so badly - one person was gathering items for her neighbor, whose house had just burned down.  Another was a young couple that had just moved to the area and had no furniture at all.  Another was a petite elderly lady, who was so grateful for the chair to put in the bathtub because her husband needed help bathing.

And now after that, I have my pile of boxes and items.  As the family genealogist and historian, I was the default whenever a pile of papers was found.  They always save it for Leah and I am so happy for that!  (You don't know how easy it is for my Mom to throw things out.  She would probably have tossed me and my sister long ago except that we're hard to catch!!  Well, ok, maybe she have just tossed me, I was the really annoying teenager and probably deserved to be out on the curb - my sister was the smart one!)

It's hard though, looking at this corner.  I dutifully brought everything home and packed it neatly in boxes and stowed it away here in this corner where I don't see it every day.  When we are gone, we leave behind all the detritus of life - receipts for things you don't own anymore, rubber bands, spare glasses.  And someone has to come in and decide what is important and what isn't.  When we're alive, we think it's all important.  I have a fabulous collection of plastic bags I use to take out the kitty litter.  Do I need 8,000 plastic bags?  Well, I guess I'm planning ahead in case tomorrow the world suddenly stops manufacturing them and after all, I need some way to get the kitty litter out of the house.  Did I mention I use recyclable bags and paper bags only now?  I don't even bring new plastic bags into the house and yet the piles of them never seem go down down.

I'd be mortified if something suddenly happened to me and my family came into my house and had to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss.  I'd probably have to haunt one of them if they threw something vital out, like my important collection of wheat-back pennies in the console of my car.  There's at least 5 of them there, and a 1976 quarter too.  I just know my mom would gather it up and put it in a regular coin jar or something!!!  And someone would just SPEND it WITHOUT knowing!

So yes, my point here really is actually that yes, as a genealogist I do have a very high-level view about life and death.  I see my families where children have died as babies, I see my families where a spouse passed away while still young, I see families that never had children and I fret for them, wondering who took care of them when they were old, even though they died more than 100 years ago.  I know death happens, it has happened for always, and it will keep happening.

But it is hard when it's so close and personal, and you actually have custody of someone else's belongings.  I feel a responsibility for all those papers I carefully packed away.  And yet I hesitate to look at them because, well, they aren't mine.

A while back, my Grandfather allowed me to take a box of old letters to scan.  When I went through them, there was one that was from my Grandfather to my Grandmother.  He was away on a business trip, this was back in the early 1960s.  He wrote stuff for the whole family and then he wrote in the letter that the rest of it was for "Mom" only to read.

So you know what I did of course?  I folded it up and put it back in the envelope.  Maybe one day I will read it, maybe never.  I'll have to figure that one out.

Taking a peek into someone's life when they lived 200 years ago is fascinating.  The distance in time makes it so interesting.  Taking a peek into my grandparent's life, when they aren't here to frame the discussion for me, well, that's harder.   

In the meantime, this stuff will sit for a bit in my living room, getting accustomed to its' new custodian.  When it's ready, it will welcome me in.


  1. I am going to hide some surprises in my piles of stuff and that will force you to go through EVERY SINGLE page and envelope. Haaaa! It will take years!!

  2. I can relate to what you say about how hard it is to "peek into my grandparents' life when they aren't here". (I felt similar emotions when my Dad passed away.) You'll know when the time is right to deal with their possessions.

  3. Leah,

    What a beautiful post. It touched me deeply.

    It is so nice to know someone else frets over their ancestors lives.

    My parents are starting to give away things so my sisters and I "aren't burdened by it" -- their words. Yes,it is much easier to fret over those who lived so long ago and so hard for the present.


  4. Thank you Yvonne and Valerie! Even though I know it makes sense that others feel like I do, it's always nice to hear it confirmed. I appreciate you both taking the time to comment. :-)

  5. Leah, your post touched me as well. I recently moved my mom's 3 bedroom, 2 - 1/2 bath, 2 story home, to my little 3 bedroom, 2 bath single story home. I really had a difficult time seeing my mom's beautiful things carried out of her front door. I brought as much as I could to my home and the rest I gave to her best friend. I have all of her papers, letters, cards, furniture, glasses, rubberband's, etc., just as you mentioned. It's the strangest feeling to have it here, it's supposed to be there, in her home, with her. But, I do feel that responsibility and too, blessed that I am the keeper of the life she created, I feel surrounded by her at the same time.

    It has opened my eyes to what I hold onto, what's important . . . I too worry that when I am gone, what's going to happen to her things then . . . I know about them and have attachment to them but my daughter and granddaughter have different feelings about many of her things. I know it's all just stuff but it's my mom's stuff, it's the "layers" of her life . . . so, for the moment, I too just allow everything to be where it is until the right time comes. I have arranged her beautiful furniture in my home and that feels good. Thank you for such a wonderful touching post.