Yesterday, I fulfilled an obligation to my folks that I made a year or so ago involving cleaning out a storage facility that they have rented in my hometown of Thomaston, Georgia. It is the repository for the final remnants of what was in my grandmother's house along with some furniture and odd pots and pans (from my grandmother's storage facility) and some old stuff of theirs that was just sitting in there. I estimated that they have spent over $13,000 keeping this storage facility over the past thirty some odd years that currently houses items that are collectively valued at approximately $500 if you're being generous.
I know that when someone passes on, we are afraid to part with items that we don't know the value or history or...or that were lovingly kept for a lifetime in a box to be pulled out and viewed at a later date. Sometimes people pull something valuable out of an attic or basement and become instant millionaires. But this stuff? No. It had already been sorted once and deemed "too good to throw away" or "we don't have time to sort it right now so we'll wait." Of course, one doesn't want to callously toss letters that a person kept, or the dress that someone wore their senior year of college in 1927. But then again, there comes a time when that just has to be done...even if it isn't easy.
My grandmother was a college student and then a young bride during the Great Depression. I grew up hearing stories about how she had three dresses that doubled to six because a friend and she were the same size. They would trade out for various dates with young men, and she just made do instead of troubling her parents for more than she knew they could offer her comfortably. As a result of surviving those lean years of American history, she - like many of her generation - kept everything. And when I mean "everything" - I mean old Kool Whip containers, televisions that no longer worked (because the wood cabinets were still good), patterns for clothes that nobody wanted to make or had been taught to make, and tin foil. I remember as a young girl thinking that tin foil was always wrinkled...instead of smooth...because she would reuse it instead of throwing it away if it was clean. (And I also know that it will eventually disintegrate...and when it does, it was okay to throw it away without asking.)
Looking through boxes of old books that came from family members long deceased, 45 records that we have no means of playing now because none of us owns a turntable, and a box of lightweight aluminum pans for cooking were sorted through using a powerful flashlight as quickly as possible. Thirty minutes into the sorting process...we realized that there was no way that we could accomplish all that we needed to without a box of black garbage bags and more time...so we got out what we could...filled up the truck with the big pieces...and left the boxes for another day.
But being there going through the remnants of a life well lived, I could only think about how different it might have been.
Sometime in the 1980s, Big Dave and I took a trip to Thomaston with the express purpose of cleaning out the garage. We were dressed in old clothes and we were there to honor Gammy's request to help her get the garage in order so that she could unload the storage facility she had and look through what she has put there in the 1960s. This was a different one than my folks took out in the 1980s and after her death they consolidated what was left of her things into theirs. But back to the garage...as we stood there throwing away a cardboard box that a television had come in that had long been troubled with water damage, we got about five bags filled before her anxiety was so high that she told us to stop. She was afraid that we were throwing away valuable things that only she could approve or deny. The truth was...we were only throwing away things that were too water damaged, soiled, or clearly beyond hope to ever be of any value to anyone. It didn't change her perception, though.
So, we got what we could to the street, and then we went upstairs and visited with her for awhile...our purpose for being there pretty much thwarted. When I mean anxiety...I mean something almost akin to terror. It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen. But then again, if you knew my grandmother and her ability to take charge of a situation...perhaps maybe not so much.
Fast forward twenty five years...and we were all standing in her house after she passed trying to decide who was to take what where and when. And sometimes it wasn't pretty...although everyone is still speaking and trying not to think about it all too much. Which, I suppose, somewhat rocks.
So, yesterday, we stood in the room with the last of it. The letters from her parents to her while she was at Wesleyan. The lap desk that she used to write letters sitting on the couch watching her beloved Braves before her eyesight failed on her and frustrated her more than falling three times and breaking various leg and hip bones ever could.
And it was a little bit bittersweet...I'm not going to lie to you.
On the other hand, Big Dave's parents turned 70, and decided that they wanted the kids to come get what they wanted. And so we did...long before my mother-in-law died...because they weren't attached to things. They were, and my father-in-law still is...incredibly attached to people. Family, friends, people that they met the week before. And although my sweet sister-in-laws had to finish up the cleaning out process...it was done in two weekends...instead of over a four year time period that is actually more of an eleven year time period if you count the storage facility.
The older I get, the more I realize the futility of keeping so many things. So many reminders that I lived a good life that I'll never be able to take with me...and that my children will have to deal with someday. Will they know that the striped blanket that is on the edge of the couch was purchased in Cabos San Lucas in 2006 when Big Dave and I went on a trip with his company? Will they care about the histories of the various family pieces that I possess? I have no idea.
So, I'm going to be combing through what is here and hoping that I can pass these gems along with the stories as soon as they set up their homes. For my oldest one...that will hopefully be in a few weeks when she purchases her first home. For my younger one, it will be a few years...but since he's really the more sentimental of the two...I know in my heart that he'll be a good steward of some of these items that mean so much to me when that time comes.
Being back in Thomaston yesterday gave me the opportunity to eat at Piggie Park...a ritual that my family followed at least once a week from the time I was eight until I left at age 18. We used to take old towels out with us to catch the crumbs and Mom and I laughed about that memory while we were sitting there in the rented brand spanking new truck hoping we wouldn't christen it with some barbecue sauce, ketchup, or a spilled Coke (an occurrence that was far more likely when Linda was little). I told them that the food tasted the same but that Charlie wasn't bringing it to us...so that was different. Mom said he ran himself to death and stayed skinny providing for the seven children that he had. We talked about going out to the Norris' "Steak 'n Stuff" restaurant every Friday night...where the highlight of that meal (in my humble opinion) was the lemon meringue pie. I can still remember watching my sister leave the table and "visit" (and charm) everyone there because she was so stinking cute with her waist length straight blond hair and little barrettes to keep it out of her eyes.
We drove by Big Chic (where I got a lot of my "starter" cellulite and fat cells) and I could almost taste the chicken filet sandwich with mayonnaise, mustard, and extra pickles. And fries. Definitely the fries (because that used to comprise a meal at lunch back in the day.) We were able to stop at Cake House Bakery...the shop opened by my friend Debbie Culverhouse, and got to actually indulge in some of what I'd previously only seen posted on Facebook...and I got to hug her neck for the first time in 32 years. (And if you are reading this and live in Thomaston...you totally need to go by there. Often.) Leaving town, we saw the turnoff to River Bend (what my grandmother always joked was "Rubber Band") and I only regretted that we couldn't stop in for dinner. (Then my friend Tommy posted about being there that night on Facebook...which only made it worse.)
I know that it seems odd to be all tied up with the food of home...but you must understand that it is a great comfort to me to know that the places I loved as a child are still there. And although our home on Johnston Drive now has new owners and is painted a different color than the yellow that it was painted from the 1960s until it was sold in 2006...I can still go back and have a delicious meal...and remember when.
So, while we were letting go yesterday one more tentative thread of our tie to Thomaston...we were also indulging in that continuous thread that is still there after we are gone from the area...Piggie Park. I have found a close cousin to it here in Montgomery - Sam's Barbecue...but still.
Also strangely comforting was being fussed at for not calling various parties to let them know that we were in the area...even though it was a very, very short trip. We're going back soon to eat at the Peachtree Cafe with our precious Johnston Drive neighbors, Billy and Charlene Daniel, because I miss them and want to catch up in person. Those who say "you can never go home again" are dead wrong. Today, I am very happy about that.