The boxes are there, in the corner, taking up space that I could use for a thousand other things, like books, or stacks of magazines that I never read but can’t help but accumulate, or clothes to go to Goodwill, or boxes of items that I could sell on ebay. But the space is not available in this very large house, because they are there. The boxes.
It’s been seven months. Seven, that’s a magical number, I tell myself. A good time to open the boxes and start sorting through a lifetime of minutia.
There is not that many of them. The boxes. As someone who abhors knick knacks with a passion, it was easy enough to pass those by when we were cleaning out Granny’s house. And the years in the empty house had taken their toll on her shelves of books – like the matching spines of all of her Zane Grey westerns. Books that she read over and over, like visiting with old friends. She had shared them with me over the years, introducing me to wagon trains, Indian fighters like Lewis Wetzel, and the romantic west. But the damp had crept into the old farm house in her absence, and covered the outer surfaces with a thin mold that made me want to wash my hands immediately.
Feeling like I was invading her personal space, I shook out every box and drawer, searching for the snippets of poetry that she would write on the outside of envelopes or on the back of someone else’s stationery. At the time, I had not sorted through the slips of paper, just stacked them into the boxes to deal with later. Now, it was later.
I pulled out the smallest of the boxes, and found it was only half-filled. Obviously, my focus while packing had not been on full throttle. First, I sorted through a stack of empty envelopes, all addressed to her. They had probably been Christmas cards, birthday cards, or even just cards to say hello. Not a week went by that she didn’t receive some correspondence from a far flung family member. She kept the envelopes in case she needed the address, placing them into stacks in the bookshelf. Finding the address then consisted of looking through all of the stacks, all of the envelopes for the one that she needed. And even then, she could never say whether the address was the latest, or from ten years ago. Gifts to her included address books and rolodexes, but they received no better treatment getting stuffed with the torn off address label, but not always stuck in the right section of the alphabet.
I diligently checked each envelope, and found a larger envelope filled with a stack of mementos of her children. I started to divide them into stacks to send to my aunts, my uncle, and my dad. I carefully categorized each small pile. In three yellowed envelopes, labeled with the names of her two daughters and her youngest son who is almost 70, I found tiny locks of hair. Even as a mother myself, I marvel at the love of a mother for her children, holding onto precious keepsakes for all these years. They had not had a lot of money, so she had probably cut their hair herself.
In the pile for her oldest son who is now in his 80s, there is a grade card with one corner slightly mouse-chewed, pictures of his wedding to his second wife, and pictures of the lake at Tahoe where he now lives. The postcards of western rocks that I know he bought for her I slipped into my own pile. Her son had always hoped to delight her with the sight of the ocean when she finally went to visit him in California in her 80s. She had smiled and dipped her fingers in the ocean water, but the tall rocks and waves of striations had left her amazed instead. When she had returned from that trip, she had knelt in the yard, butt in the air and kissed the ground. Later, side by side, we sat together on her sofa and she had walked me through each of the pictures she had taken, including one of the black male flight attendant who had been kind to her. In my mind, I can see the veins in her hand and the knots of her fingers as she points to each picture and I can hear her voice as she creates the adventure of the trip with her words. Probably because she told it to me more than once.
The first box is empty. Pictures sorted. Small packages ready for my uncle, my aunts, and my dad. I wonder if one day I’ll have grandchildren who will be left to sort through my drawers. Will they pull out three postcards and wonder why the image of Red Rock Canyon had been precious? Maybe not. Or maybe they’ll find a picture of an old farm house and a woman kneeling to kiss the ground and they’ll hear my voice in their head, telling the story of her adventure.