My mother is moving to a smaller apartment in a different old folks' home, so some sorting needed to be done when we visited last week, some sorting and some tossing. It fell to me to go through her books and her audio and video tapes, and I threw out 75% of what I found, taking two shopping bags home and leaving two more, one a piece for each of my sisters.
Many of the old vhs tapes were unmarked, so I stuck them in her player to see if I could tell what they were. One featured my mother and dad at their fiftieth wedding anniversary part in Florida. Mom simply and quickly said she didn't want to see it. She's never been particularly nostalgic, but this abrupt command arose from pain. What suddenly came on the screen in front of her was painful.
For the rest of the afternoon, I tossed tapes--audio and video--sometimes without even knowing why she had them, what was being celebrated, or who was singing or speaking. It all went in a box that got marched down the silent hallway only to disappear behind a door marked, simply, "Rubbish."
A thick stack of manila envelopes from her son, from me, each of them holding a letter, sometimes--often--quite long. Once every other Sunday I sit down here and write her a note, telling her what's going on.
In this digital age, few people type or hand write letters anymore, e-mail having become the cleanest, slickest avenue of communication. But e-mails are purely electronic--they're not hard copy. I'm sure there are fanatic hoarders of e-mails--I'm a hoarder maybe, but not a fanatic--but personal letters one can hold in one's hand are an endangered species. I tossed an entire armful of them, my own, right down into the the chute in the room marked "rubbish." Some of them are backed up on my hard drive.
But it won't be long before my own children start sorting their own parents' things, and when they do, their job may be more difficult because it will include two hard drives. But then, maybe they'll just pitch the whole thing. Right here beside me is a little remote hard drive full of pictures and music; it won't be hard at all to pull out the usb cord and just toss it. Who knows?--maybe that's the way it will go.
One way or another, it's impossible not to undertake a job like that and not be slapped across the face once again with the immediacy of our lives. Probably half of what I toted out of that apartment, half of what I tossed and what I saved myself, was bulk she'd accumulated from me--including my own books, as well as books we gave, all things we thought precious, as did she, once upon a time. Pictures galore. Scrapbooks. My granddaughter playing the violin on an audio tape.
She has no use for them anymore. Whatever pleasure they ever brought her has disappeared. She's 90 and down-sizing. Family pictures by the dozen. Music that once made her soul soar. Preachers on a dozen videos, not to be missed. All gone.
My in-laws had two auction sales--one when they left the farm, one when they went to the home. The first one was fun; the second was tragic. Having to watch those things my mother-in-law treasured go for nickles and dimes was more painful than I imagined.
But there was difference--when they left the farm, we were young and our kids were little. I don't think I understood down-sizing as well as I do today, at 61 years old. Now, I know better.
I hear Thoreau now. What's more, I hear a hundred biblical passages about storage barns and meadow flowers that neither toil and spin--a thousand Sunday School lessons few ever really hear.
Now I've got 'em--those shopping bags full of Mom's mementos. They're both sitting here on the floor of an already cluttered basement, untouched.
Maybe I'll just let them here for my kids. They may be worth a moral lesson it takes a lifetime to hear.