It all began with a last minute trip to see my mother. I’d been in the city for a conference and my weekend plans had changed, so I caught a train to Connecticut. I arrived late on Friday evening and as we lingered over dinner and wine, I asked my mom. “What needs doing around here? How can I help you tomorrow?” She looked sheepish as she told me that she’d really like to get up into the attic now that the roof has been repaired. Perhaps I could help her sweep? Maybe we could do a bit of sorting? “Of course,” I replied.
And so we did. Sweep. And sort. And before long I was uttering statements like “I cannot believe you still have this,” and “What on earth are you planning to do with Daddy’s clothes? He’s been dead for nearly twenty one years. I don’t think he’s going to need them anymore.” And she laughed and said, “Well, it’s only a few of his clothes…his special clothes.” I sighed and didn’t say anything further.
We flattened empty cardboard boxes and dragged a dusty, broken fan close to the stairs. I carried armfuls of things down to the recycling and trash bins in her garage.
We opened my grandmother’s trunk- the one she took across the ocean when she traveled in Europe in her youth. I imagined it full of stylish dresses and elegant wraps. It was empty now, thankfully.
But the next one wasn’t. It was stuffed with clothes my sister and I had worn forty or more years ago. The grey pinafore and striped tie I wore each day to the British school in Cyprus. A child-sized pair of sweatpants with the logo of the school I’d attended in The Hague. Clothes with memories. We closed the trunk, not knowing where to begin. “That might be a summer project for me,” I said.
Behind the trunks were boxes of books and dolls- mine and my sister’s. When my father traveled, he often brought each of us a doll dressed in traditional clothing, from whatever faraway land he’d visited. “Next summer,” I thought, sliding the box next to another that contained my childhood scrapbooks.
I noticed a stack of boxes labeled “Christmas,” and opened the top one to find it full of recycled ribbon and carefully folded bits of wrapping paper- each piece having done several tours of duty already. My mother does not throw away wrapping paper. Her children do not rip it off packages. You get the idea. These days when we gather to open gifts, we laugh and tell stories about the paper before sliding our fingers carefully between the edges and the tape.
“Can we agree to get rid of the tinsel?” I asked her, giggling. She didn’t commit. “Do you still have Grandma’s copper ornaments? I love those.” “Yes, they’re here somewhere, but I don’t want to get into those boxes right now. Let’s just move them over there,” she said, pointing to the front right corner of the attic. So we did.
We carried a last load down to the garage and called it a day. The attic was swept, and a little bit emptied. The stack of boxes I’d need to tackle next summer sat apart from the rest.
“Well,” my mother remarked, “it’s good we got some of that done. Less for you to do someday when I’m not around.” She often makes statements like that. “Shhh,” I replied. And I always respond like that.
Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the weekly writing nudge.