Mom died in May of 2019. After her death, it was up to the remaining children – us – to take the time to clear out her house, and get it ready to be sold. If you have never done that before, then count yourself as keenly blessed! I’ve mentioned before that the process makes you want to go home to your own house, and start throwing things away. I’m frankly amazed that, when I left seminary, everything I owned fit neatly into the back of a 1979 Honda Civic hatchback – and that included the dozens of books I had amassed as part of my seminary years. Today, we would be hard pressed to fit everything in a giant moving van. And we have moved – a lot! Mom and Dad settled into their home in 1978 or so, and so for over 40 years, those walls contained a huge amount of “stuff.” I almost think that closets should be outlawed, and people be forced to deal with their “stuff” out in the open, instead of “stuffing” the little places to the ceiling with “stuff.”
Now, cleaning out a relative’s home is different that “clearing” out the home. If you are cleaning out, it’s just a matter of taking all the “stuff” and chucking it into a garbage bin parked in the driveway. It’s harsh, but effective. When you are clearing out a house, however, it means actually touching and evaluating, and remembering each item that was not only part of your relative’s life, but most often, part of yours as well. It’s becomes an emotional process, and not just a mental one – and I have to tell you, once emotions take hold, everything slows down to a creeping crawl! I have in my mind sitting amidst a pile of unopened boxes with my siblings, going through each one and making sure everybody mostly had the opportunity to express which “thing” coming out of the box was something that they might possibly want to have as a memory of Mom and Dad. Was it equally divided? Not really – I had only the room of the interior of my Mazda CX-5 to haul everything home, so that pretty well limited what I could call. However, please do not pity me! You can stuff a huge load of “stuff” in a car that size…
Now, some of the things I really could care less about – I had absolutely no emotional connection to them. There were others that I appreciated, and had an interest in. And then there were the items that opened my heart to when I was a child, like the print of the three circus horses that hung in the boys’ room for so many years, or the giant turkey platter that Mom got at an auction in Australia. Needless to say, negotiations were rampant and sometimes heated, but we all agreed that we were to be stewards of the especially precious items, like Dad’s military medals, and to always be aware of siblings’ feelings toward them if the day came when someone needed to clear their own house out. We made it through pretty well, and kind of like dumping your bag of Halloween candy out on the floor of the living room at the end of trick or treating, you quickly realize that you are holding far more than you could even have planned to do in the first place! And please remember: all that “stuff” is heading home to YOUR house, which already has more than a modicum of “stuff” just existing there!
That chapter finished pretty much when we got the house cleared and sold. What I didn’t realize is that there is a variation on the theme of house clearing that in some ways is even more brutal…
You see, Cheri’s folks and family have lived in the farm in Grafton for probably close to 140 years. Cheri’s folks built their home in the early 70s, but a great deal of Grandma’s “stuff” that existed in the old white three story house had to be re-distributed when it had to be torn down. So, needless to say, their house also was a world champion “stuff’ container.
The difference came, however, when because of Cheri’s dad’s decline of health, they needed to move into town, and rent a smaller three-bedroom duplex. The “stuff” stayed out at the farm for about three years.
After Cheri’s dad’s death, Cheri’s mom made plans to shift the farm to the next generation, and so Cheri’s nephew made plans to renovate the house. You can see where this is going: his plans meant that everything else in the house, from furniture to every closet, the entire basement and all the cupboards and such needed to be cleared out. While Cheri’s mom is still alive. Again, recall that the possessions of Cheri’s grandparents of both sides resided inside the walls of their home.
What has happened, therefore, over the last two years, is that each and every time we have come up to Grafton to visit Cheri’s mom, after howdys and hugs, the next sentence out of her mom’s mouth has been, “I brought in some boxes from the farm that we need to go through…” or even worse, “I found another box of photos, and we need to look through them.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos from the early 1900s where we have no idea who these folks are, to the thousands of pictures taken even since I became part of the family…
And what has occurred every time we have ventured northward, is that we come home with the car a little heavier, as Cheri’s mom is going through the process we went through with my mom – except she’s still alive, and in many cases has a vested interest in where different “stuff” ends up. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that it is a looooooong process. Really long, and sometimes at the end of sorting through a box, and things seem settled, Cheri’s mom may very well play the “well, let me think about this for now…” and the box goes back in the closet.
Last Friday is a good example – there were two boxes of yet other sets of dishes and “stuff” – probably from Cheri’s other grandparents – and so we ended up taking some of them home, while others were still to be determined….” You know when they say you should only handle a piece of mail once – just take care of it, and don’t stack it for later? The same applies to “stuff” from previous generations.
Where will this all end? I’m not really sure, but as I look around our house, since we have done a world-class job of collecting antiques and collectibles of all sorts, I think of our two sons, who have expressed NO interest in what we own. I’ve already given them permission --- as though I needed to – to pull out what they each really would like to keep as a memory, and when the time comes, have the mother of all auctions, and take the money and run!
But what will they do with their grandfather’s wedding band? Or the sherry glass that their great-grandfather brought back from France in World War 1? Or the primitive corner dry sink that probably dates from the 1850s? Or even the rosemaled trunk that has a date of 1790 on it…?
I guess maybe that’s part of the fun of having families – we get to place the task of figuring out what to do in the hands of the ones that follow us! But maybe Cheri and I can be intentional enough to perhaps whittle the “stuff” down a bit before all is said and done… At least get rid of the financial records in boxes that are 20 years old…
And don’t forget the photos!
Word for the day: recondite. Pronounced either RECK-un-dite, or ree-CON-dite. I expect we have maybe all heard that word before, but it might be a stretch to put it in a sentence. From the Latin con and dere, the words mean “to put together.” But when you add the re, as in reconditus¸ the word means “to store away, or to hide or conceal.” Actually, condite, means in one sense to pickle or preserve or to embalm. So, fast forward ahead to the 1600s, and the word, fairly obscure adjective, of recondite means “deep, or hard to understand,” or even “obscure” itself. When some speaks in a recondite manner, it’s usually not by accident – it offers an arcane, hidden, long-winded but rambling message. Indeed, if you intend to be recondite, you also intend to obscure what you really mean to say. Better to just say what you mean, and mean what you say…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.