paper trail

photo3 Photo8After my mom died, I hauled three big boxes of paperwork out of her house.  These boxes have been sitting in my garage, waiting for me to sort through them; a task I have been avoiding for almost a year.

I believe my mother was either a lawyer in a previous life or an accused felon because through the paperwork she kept she can prove her whereabouts for virtually every day of her life.  Neatly organized by year, my mother kept every receipt, estimate, manual, and report.  Have you ever purchased something and while throwing away the warranty card wondered who actually fills those cards out?  The answer is: my mother!  If my mother purchased a lawn mower with a five-year warranty, and it broke down after four years and eleven months, she could pull out the manual, the receipt, and the name of the salesman who sold it to her.  By the way, if your name is Joe and you worked at Sears in 1982, I apologize on behalf of my entire family.  According to my mother’s notes, she phoned you three times to complain about a faulty weed whacker

It was hard not to feel sentimental when I began the sorting process.  Ah, there is my mom’s handwriting.  Look, my dad’s high school diploma.  But eventually I took a more practical approach.  Do I really need my parents tax return from 1963? (In case you are curious, they earned a combined $10, 941 that year.  My mom as a bank teller and my dad as a high school history teacher.)  Or how about my brother’s preschool evaluation?  Apparently he was very good a pasting.  I found my vaccination report from 1970, so I can mark worry about Rubella off my list.  I can prove I was baptized, I can prove I was adopted, and I can prove that on September 8, 1987 my parents both had the halibut for dinner at Steamers.  I can also tell you my brother’s SAT scores from 1985, which proves he is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

It was weird going through the minutia of my parent’s life together, decades of bills, receipts, and contracts.  But in the midst of the mounds of documentation, there were treasures.  A letter from my grandmother to my brother on his ninth birthday declaring him a dream come true, and a note from 1971 in my mom’s handwriting telling a random babysitter that I like tuna fish for lunch, and I do not like the bedroom door closed when I fall asleep.  How about my dad’s college transcripts? I had no idea he failed psychology.  Had I known that thirty years ago, it would have come in handy.

In the end, I shredded ninety-nine percent of the boxes contents.  You simply can’t carry around decades of tax returns and notes on plumbing repairs, and now that it is over, I am glad the boxes are gone.  Still, journeying through my parent’s paper trail was not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

 

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I don’t see dead people

I couldn’t find a photo of relatives in lederhosen, but this is the accordian my mother kept in her closet.

My blogging experiment has surpassed my expectations.  So far, I have had almost 800 hits in two weeks.  When I entered into the blogosphere, I assumed my audience would be made up of my aunts, my best friend, and my brother.  My audience is larger than I initially assumed, and it turns out my brother is not my most devoted reader (note to self, write more embarrassing stories about Neil).

Generally I log in to WordPress daily to see how many hits I’ve had.  As the administrator of my blog, I have access to a statics page which lays out lots of information, including what counties I have had views from.

In my first week, I had a hit from Switzerland.  I had a friend travelling though Switzerland at the time, but seeing the Swiss flag on my statistics page made me smile.  My mother’s family was from Switzerland.  I am related to many lederhosen-wearing, accordion-playing, yodelers.  So, even though I knew Jen had been the source of my Swiss hit, I was still pleased my first international view had come from the country of my mother’s origin.  It felt like a sign.

This morning, I received a hit from Ireland.  My father’s family is Irish.  They don’t wear kilts or tartan plaid (maybe that is more of a Scottish thing), but they do love to drink.

For a brief moment, I felt like my parents were with me.  Not literally.  Not, “I see dead people.”  But all they were and all they encompassed still had the power to influence me, to cause pause and reflection.

When my first husband died, we never found his wedding ring.  I wasn’t massively sentimental about this fact, but it would have been nice to have.  I assumed it was lost in the motorcycle crash, and I didn’t give it much thought past that.

A year later, Meg was heading to a sleepover; she dug out a duffle bag to pack and tipped it upside down to empty it.  Out rolled Scott’s ring.  What felt weighty about this find, was the date.  We found the ring on what would have been our fourteenth wedding anniversary.  On that same day, I was notified by Glamour Magazine that I had won their memoir contest.www.glamour.com/news/feature/articles/2006/10/02/nonfiction

I like the idea of signs.  Sure, most of them can be explained away as coincidence.  Still, when I die I am going to work extra hard at sending signs.  I am going to focus on signs of the annoying variety, TVs that constantly turn off, random flat tires, soup pots boiling over, events that will force my children to pause and think of me.

PS  Two days after my dad died, an eagle landed in front of my car on the freeway.  I wrote about this in my eulogy to him.  To this day, I am convinced the freeway eagle was my father.  You can read about the event in Eulogy for my Dad.

PPS  If you are the source of my Irish hit, leave a comment below.

I will always have her candy dish

After Mom died, Neil and I cleaned out her house.  I kept a few Christmas decorations, the photo albums, a candy dish.  It was maddening sorting through the truck-loads of stuff.  How does one decide what to keep and what to let go?  I am not a very sentimental person; I don’t hold on to birthday cards, report cards, or photographs where I think I look fat.  But, suddenly, everything held value: the cookie sheets, the blue wool blanket, the broken statue of St. Francis.

I had nightmares about my attic and closets bursting with Mom’s things, vomiting out macramé table cloths and my ancient Snoopy bedspread.  In the end, we held an estate sale and gave things away for next to nothing to save ourselves one more trip to the Goodwill.

When I opened the doors for the sale, folks were waiting to get in.  It was a mob scene.  One man ran to the freezer and offered $5 for everything inside it.  Another woman wanted to negotiate the price of a fruit bowl.  It was marked at seventy-five cents.  “I’ll give you a quarter,” she said.

And so my parents’ life was quickly reduced to dollar bills and change.

At the end of the day, I loaded a box of items into my car.  Some sandwich bags, paper towels, a box of brownie mix, practical items my family would use over the course of the summer.  We are almost to the end of these much-used products.  Yesterday I wrapped up some left-over spare ribs.  This is my dead mother’s aluminum foil, I thought.  Just a few months ago, she was wrapping up a baked potato with this very roll.

It all sounds so heavy, dark, and full of regret, but freeing myself from the burden of my parents’ things has left me with room to grieve.  I can hold the weight of my loss without the weight of their living-room furniture.  I will mourn for them one sandwich bag at a time and when the bags are gone, I will always have my mother’s candy dish.