I heard a report that a darling friend referred to my apartment as cluttered. Her son, a collector like me, called it cluttered with wonderful things. Once I helped him carry a teak dining table into their house from the alley. He asked me to keep an eye out for solid wood bookcases. She tosses things out wholesale, can't stand a mishmash of items on a counter. Tossed out pencils, Lego pieces from expensive sets in a younger son's Lego museum. Of course, she'll be buying pencils again soon enough. Her husband saved a hefty gift check enclosed in a card from the bin. In my mind, if you save what you already have, then you will be prepared for the eventual possibility and probability of future need. A full pantry is insurance against famine. Favorite books can be read with equal gusto the third time around. Unread books can be stored up for the cold winter ahead. Photos and letters contain precious memories.
It hurts too much to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go, and where to let it go to. I'm going through boxes and bags of collected stacks of papers, small slips of paper, Christmas cards from friends, ATM receipts, scrawled telephone numbers, son's artwork (on every paper he's ever touched). Bundles cleared off the table, put out of sight for another day. Pulled out old newspapers, compelling articles and picture sacrificed to the recycling bin, sight unseen. That I could do. Filled shopping bags with unsolicited credit card come ons destined for community shredding event in September. That I could do.
Any piece of paper with my mother's writing saved, a limited edition collector's item. She started printing communications to me when I went away to college, after I confessed I had a hard time reading her cramped handwriting, a habit developed to save on paper. She has outlasted many of the ladies of her generation on her block, in her neighborhood. Sifted through and saved are her homework help for Clement, notes detailing ingredients of soup she deposited into our refrigerator, notes penciled into vintage Christmas cards. Penciled so that we have the option of erasing her marks and reusing cards. Cards she purchased at church rummage sale donated by other ladies who had saved them for many years. Once she gave me a happy mother's day to my dear aunt card, this after her last auntie died, she could not hope to use it anymore.
My mother has pitched out scores of vintage doorknobs, hardware from the basement into cans in the alley in an effort to declutter. She worries about our having to sort through things after she's gone. Had I known about her plan I certainly would have asked her to pass them on to me. My only "consolation" is that a dumpster diver fished them out.
Many papers triggered flashbacks, good trips down memory lane. Clement's detailed, complicated, funny artwork of forests, treasure maps, traps without escape hatches, changeable aliens, letters to Santa with priceless misspellings. A few year's worth to compile into sleeves and big binders. An unpleasant chill runs through me as I realize our big empty binders have been donated away.
A printed out e-mail from adoption agency shortly before we traveled to get Wisteria. It details her height, weight in Metric with my husband's conversions into feet and inches. How is it that she grew all that muscle and bone in the time she's been with us? How is it that Clement wore that tiny bib?
I remember things that I've thrown away and regretted. A pencil drawing that smudged. Haunting portraits bought at garage sale that acquired a moldy smell in the basement. Painted by a lady who passed away. Sold by her husband for a quarter apiece. He kept only the one she painted of her son.
A charmingly painted tin train that came with my childhood home. I smashed it with a brick to see what would happen. I threw it away to hide the evidence of my destructiveness. That was the same year I washed my hair with toothpaste and trimmed my bangs away into a mini crewcut. Sadness and regret all around.
Surrounded by boxes, flood of memories washed over me. A shakiness, a tremor, a minor earthquake throwing me off balance. Trying to sort out my present looking into the past. Motion sickness. Pull over to the side of the road. Disorientation. A few deep breaths, resolution to put off to a future day when circumstances are different. Decide to join my children in the present moment. Watch a movie, play, eat. Put a lid on each box, firmly now, stack in a pile behind a door that locks, walk away. Put off till tomorrow what you can't do today.