“Perhaps they are the lucky people, after all, the unthinking ones, taking it as it comes and not questioning it.” George Johnston, Clean Straw For Nothing.
My parents have sold their farm and will settle and move soon. They will move to a small townhouse in the nearby country town where they have friends and familiarity. They will not have to drive for half an hour to shop or visit. They’ll be able to walk down the street; something that they have never been able to do. In the meantime, my mother is attempting to clean out or clean up the farm house (and ‘old house’) where she has lived for almost 36 years. Her five children have moved most of their possessions from the farm which was once their home. It looks sparse and empty now; even the photographs have been taken down.
It must be a difficult task for her; so many memories, good and bad. The farm envelopes their life together. The house, although not built by them, was renovated and decorated by them. It is an expression of their life together. The house is now a mirror of them; as the house deteriorates so do they, particularly my father. My father has Alzheimer’s and I doubt that he provides much assistance to the sorting and packing of their collected possessions.
My mother has seen to it that each of her children is treated equal. Equality is important to her. Therefore, what one receives, the others have to receive as well. If you do not receive the exact same thing then you receive a similar item of similar value. It has been that way all our lives. What one gets, the others get as well. If one went on the overseas school trip, the others either went on a trip as well or received monetary compensation for being unable to travel on such a trip. So it goes with the sorting of possessions.
She had given me my old school books a few months back. As I had not looked at them for more than 20 years, I saw no reason to keep them or to even look at them. I ripped off the front covers, which bore my name, and threw the lot into the recycling bin.
She then presented me with two boxes and a large plastic bag. She said that she did not care what I did with the items but that she was not going to be the one to throw them out. The large plastic bag held old bridesmaid dresses, primary school uniforms, teenage dresses, a child’s poncho and a child’s dress. I looked at them as she asked.
My daughter would have liked these items but I have already taken them to the second-hand shop. I wondered why my mother had not given these items to my daughter who would have loved dressing up in them. Maybe she had intended to give them to Clea. She was not to know that her granddaughter would die at such a young age. She was not prepared for Clea’s death either.
The two boxes contained glassware, vases, crockery and silverware. I have stored them in the relevant cupboards, for what, I do not know – for a garage sale says my husband.
Then a week later she gave me more. This time there were old piano exam certificates, lots of little certificates from school (just like the ones I keep that Clea, Jordi and Omar have received), all the organising paraphernalia from my wedding reception and even a letter from the school principal of my high school informing my parents of my suspension! That was almost 30 years ago! Needless to say all those items have gone to the recycling. My mother asked that I look at them, and I did; then I threw them out.
I do not want to leave my sons with such items. After Clea’s death, I did clean out some clothes and other keepsakes. I took my wedding dress and other ‘fancy’ dresses to the second-hand shop – I have no one to give them to and they will never fit me again. I dumped my old letters and little keepsakes from overseas trips. The only letters I have kept are those that my husband wrote to me when we lived in separate countries.
I regularly clean out my wardrobe and take my old clothes to the second-hand shop. I have never been one to keep things for the sake of keeping things. We do not have many boxes in storage in the shed or the garage, and what we do have is simply waiting to be tossed away. I do have my diaries which I have kept since I was 16 years old but I am not sure that I would leave those to my sons. I would have left them to Clea but she is not here.
I fear that I will leave Clea’s things for my sons because I do not believe I will be able to simply toss those things into a rubbish bin. Admittedly, I did clean out Clea’s room and did dispose of some clothes and toys but I did keep her special clothes and special toys. I do not have her old school uniforms – I gave them to the school to give to someone who may need good quality second-hand school dresses. I have kept her school books and her reading books; after all she hadn’t quite finished two years of school. Clea’s favourite things went with her in the tsunami – she never left home without them.
I have already let go of materiality. I do not hoard. Materiality is meaningless. There are memories attached to all such objects but those memories fade as do the bridesmaid dresses. After all, you can’t take these things with you.
I do not understand the concept of consumerism; buying for the sake of buying. My sister once told me that I was a marketer’s nightmare. I am almost immune to advertising and the like. It appears to me, that people feel the need to fill the empty spaces with clutter. There is nothing wrong with empty spaces; they provide thinking and feeling space, things that most people prefer not to indulge in (although it is not an ‘indulgence’ but a necessity for life; that you have space to think and feel). After Clea died, many people told me to keep busy and distract myself but all I wanted to do is think and feel. I do not have enough time to think and feel.
I imagine that one day, my husband and I will move from our house and we will have to take stock of our memories and our lives together; whatever that may mean. But we have already started to let go of our lives together. Destroyed people have little to hang on to; there is nothing to gain from the past. There may be nothing left. We do not know.