Thursday, August 16, 2012


I couldn't get all of the dirt out from under my fingernails. I kept running my hands under the faucet and rubbing my nails with the only washcloth I could find. My mom had a drawer where she kept her dishtowels but as her Alzheimer's progressed the dishtowels turned to rags and the rags couldn't wipe out the dirt from underneath my nails. The task of going through a person's lifetime belongs and deciding what still has value and what can be thrown away is a painful task. Cabinets filled with crystal glassware and boxes of silverplate flatware are the easy things to assess; it's the things that you don't expect to uncover. The diary we found that my crazy aunt Ruth had given my mother with entries added to all our birthdays that made us all laugh.
September 20th - Baby born. First girl. Built different than the first two. Doesn't have a handle out front. Seems to pee out the back. All water runs backwards. Never had to give other two a bath seemed to wash themselves. Use more soap and water with this one. Hope she works out. Not too bad looking.
 It reminded us of the incredible sense of humor she possessed and who the woman was who used to be our mother. In a big pull out drawer in the middle bedroom were dozens of albums where she had pasted in every receipt she had every received and every card anyone had ever sent her. What do you do with these pieces of her life? On the one hand they are only a bunch of receipts. On the other they are an insight into who she was and what she thought was important.
In a crawl space under the kitchen wrapped in plastic were a wooden baby's crib, a potty and highchair with puppy decals from the fifties. It was not just her past but ours as well. All of us had spent time in that crib. All of us had been potty trained on that potty and all of us had tasted our first solid food while strapped into that highchair. It folds in half and then rolls on a set of wooden wheels that she could push around the house so we could follow her as she did her daily itinerary of chores. Is this what we should be passing down and then to who? Can you pass down a memory or do you give it to someone else who can make their own memory?
Unschooled in any form of formal design my mom had some how managed to develop a set of design balls in an area of the Midwest where design risks aren't for the faint of heart. When I look back on my childhood home on Busse Street painted a rosy salmon with cool grey trim I gotta think this might be where my obliviousness to design innovation and crativity might have come from. Her home was always filled with art and pottery made by artists rather than pulled from the shelves of reproductions lining the department stores and subsequent walls of all those consumers too timid to hang anything more daring than a bouquet of daisies or a velvet painting of the New York skyline complete with twinkling lights.
Every Thursday when the local newspapers published their listings of garage sales she was there at the kitchen counter with her pen and paper writing down addresses and plotting out a map of sales that seemed to have the most likely finds. She gave me the auction bug. We'd plan an entire Saturday traveling hours to get to the perfect auction where we'd find deals we both still have.
How we ever convinced ourselves to buy a station of the cross frame and turn it into a hall mirror I don't remember. Now we children have to decide whether to send her quirky mirror on to its next caretaker in its journey through time or to find a home for it  within one of our homes, and the decision to do so is confusing and gut wrenching.
We've given ourselves two months to clear everything out. Every night we go over and sort and price and sometimes sit and reminisce as we open a drawer and find a lock of hair wrapped in tissue from that first haircut.

Robert Doisneau. Photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise, NYC

1 comment:

  1. Already done my mom's so I really appreciated reading about your memories about family and all the stuff we grow up surrounded with. Can't believe the sale is on Merryturn; our tax preparer lives on that street so I've been in the 'hood many times. Looks like a great sale!