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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mom's Stuff

Well, despite the ambitions in my last post, it hasn’t been that creative a week, unless you count the creativity involved in arranging more wine glasses in our dining room display case. I’m starting to bring things home from my mother’s, and finding places to put them is a challenge.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile may recall that we spent last summer trying to clear out our basement. Now I’m filling it up again with things of my mom’s that I’m not ready to part with: a bag of sympathy cards, a box of pictures, unused notebooks that we don’t need now but could use someday, a doll dressed in the habit of the Sisters of the Assumption (the nuns who ran my childhood school), a backscratcher. Then there are the things I’m trying to cram into the kitchen cabinets: a Jell-O mold a friend convinced me to keep, Irish coffee glasses with little shamrocks on them, an ice cream scooper. The ice cream scooper is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It was the first thing Luke said he wanted from my mom’s, something we’ve never had and never needed until we realized we had to have the one in my mom’s drawer. There’s an iceberg of stuff lurking beyond the ice cream scooper, in drawers and closets and boxes. I’m just starting to chip the iceberg into manageable pieces, and it’s overwhelming.

It’s an odd process, going through someone else’s stuff and deciding what to keep. It’s a little cathartic, getting rid of cracked rubber bands from the Johnson era. It’s also a little guilt-producing, going through mom’s scarves with two friends and snubbing my nose at things she loved. It feels like another step in the individuation process, affirming my separateness from my mother by declaring my different taste.

Perhaps the biggest difference I’m feeling between us regards the tension between generosity and frugality. My mother rarely gave anything away, except to us. If she had things she didn’t want anymore, she brought them to the local thrift shop, waited in a line of older women who were consigning things, hauled home whatever wasn’t accepted, and then went back in six weeks to collect whatever didn’t sell and a check for the items that did. Over the decades she made thousands of dollars this way, money that probably paid for my horseback riding lessons, or other privileges she never enjoyed herself.

It’s crossed my mind that I could sell some of her stuff on e-bay, or at the local thrift shop, but the time involved in such a venture hardly seems worth the money to me. I’m inclined to sell the most valuable things, but most of her stuff (the rest of the drawer with the ice cream scooper, for example) I’m inclined to donate to Whosoever Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army and take the tax deduction instead of the cash I’d get from consignment. I just want to give the stuff away and have started by offering baking sheets and earrings to the friends who help me sort through it and to my cousin who is nineteen and could probably use a spatula.

My mother would be horrified to see me give everything away, but I’m also discovering values my mother and I shared, such an appreciation for fine wood, a love of books, and a desire not to waste things. Neither of us ever liked putting things in the trash that could potentially be used, and I felt her training at work in me yesterday when I pulled soap out of the trash after the friend who was helping me put it there.

I imagine these moments will keep coming, moments of feeling connected to my mother and moments of feeling separate. I suppose grieving is also like an iceberg, and it’s probably fortunate that we only see the tip when we begin.


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