Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What a difference

a day makes. Especially when that day is accompanied by five strong men wielding weed whackers and chainsaws.
And driving a large empty truck into which they throw all the accumulated trash of three years of caretakers never throwing anything away.

and this was after they cleaned
I admit I accumulated a number of bits and pieces in the 15 years I lived in the cabin. This comes from living so long on the island, and never knowing what you might have a use for. But I like to think I’d learned what I would never have a use for and been able to throw it away.

I know it’s hard to get rid of things. As I watched the men clear out the basement I kept thinking, “I should keep that. We might need that at the little cabin. Maybe we could use that at the house.”

And then I remembered a house I’d helped clear out on the island after a death, and how along with the piles and piles and boxes of things that could be made use of there was twice as much that was just simply trash. I thought of the Allen House basements, and how when I cleaned out the Annex in 1982 I found, along with decades old dried up paint cans and bits of wood zinc screws and washers, parts from WWII when zinc was the only material available for civilian hardware.

And I thought of my mother’s house, when we three girls got together to go through it after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and went to live in an assisted care living center. I wasn’t even there for most of it.  Although I'd not yet been diagnosed with EDS, it was obvious my body had hit its limit.I  was sent back, exhausted, to Virginia after the first two days and my sisters finished the cleanup. 

But I was there long enough. Long enough to unearth tax returns from 30 years before, boxes and boxes of papers that turned out to be versions of the same two short stories she worked on for those same 30 years. Newspapers and magazines and torn out articles. My mother had no problem getting rid of most “things.” She had a garage full of things for my grandmother’s house, but there were no boxes and boxes of her books or china or silver or records or souvenirs. She needed little, and bought less.

What my mother collected was paper. Or rather, words and pictures on paper. I hadn’t really thought about it until just this moment. This piece started out to be about things, the things we thought we needed, couldn’t live without, and it when they disappeared we almost never noticed they were gone.

My mother collected words and pictures. She collected stories. Sometimes they were the stories the words actually wrote, and the pictures actually meant. Often her own stories had little to do with facts, and I’m not sure if she collected these factual stories because of, or in spite of this.

She’d always collected words, although her life after she moved to that little house on the east side of Providence belonged less to books and more to magazines and newspapers, less to short stories and more to the journal she wrote in daily.

I wonder when my mother became aware that she was losing stories. My mother has always been a consummate actress,and this makes me wonder how many years she starred in this play of her own making before the role itself became too much to remember, the directions too confusing. I wonder if it started years before our family noticed anything wrong.

And I wonder if that was when my mother began to collect words and stories in such quantities? She had always mailed us bits and pieces, torn out articles she felt we’d find interesting. Did it come naturally to her to just start keeping all the stories for herself?

Maybe the piles and stacks of papers hidden in my mother’s closets and drawers were her attempt to hold onto a life she only imagined she really had.

Maybe some people  keep all the things  because they feel life itself slipping away from them. Maybe they, too, feel out of control, and holding onto stuff helps.

And there's probably a reason I end up, time and time again, working my way through collections someone else has deemed important enough to hold on to.

There are things we cannot know.