Tracey, Clutter and ‘Throwing Mom Away’
How do you hang onto your past without letting it bury you?
That’s my problem.
Mom lived in our house in Dallas Texas for 50 years.
After she died in October 2006, hundreds of items from her house found their way to my place in Fort Collins, Colorado.
In the ensuing years (it’s now February 2013), I’ve made no headway on sorting through this stuff.
But the stuff is now making headway on me.
My mind is bleary from looking at Dallas boxes stacked in the garage and in my spare bedroom. I’m anxious about how much I pay to rent storage-unit space for the rest of it.
I’m a bit desperate.
I’ve decided to write this blog to record my efforts to bust my way to freedom.
Here’s the plan, to be executed in random, unchronological order:
1. I’ll pick up a Dallas item and look at it.
2. I’ll decide what to do with it.
3. I’ll act on that decision, and not look back.
4. I’ll pick up another item.
Slow? Yup. But faster than what I have been doing. Which is nothing.
This blog isn’t just about Mom. It’s also about the house.
On the morning of October 4 2006, when the paramedics lifted Mom from the red-brick hallway near the kitchen and raced her, post-stroke but alive, to Presbyterian Hospital, something significant happened.
Our house started dying.
That wasn’t unexpected. Over a half century, we’d sucked all the juice out of it.
Statistically, you’d think that of the eight souls who lived there for so long, somebody would have been good with a wrench or a hammer.
No. All of us, including Dad, were wary of tools.
So from the time we moved in, home maintenance started sliding. And Dallas’s biblical weather (searing heat, smothering humidity, bone-cracking ice storms, operatic thunderstorms and the occasional tornado) bullied the house, weakening its resolve.
By October 4 2006, the place’s only prop was Mom’s optimism.
When the ambulance sped off with her, the house sagged and shifted down.
She never came back.
Long before, all six of us who’d grown up there had moved out of Texas. Dad had died. Mom had never thrown anything away, and now she was being consumed by the regular stuff that piled up over a week, like junk mail and empty plastic milk jugs.
Actually, she stockpiled milk jugs.
She kept them in a walled-in courtyard off the kitchen. I think the plan was to cut them in half and use them as bedding containers for new asparagus ferns.
Mom loved asparagus ferns.
She raised big lush ones in the plant room off her bedroom. Six in particular were nurtured to the size of Shetland ponies. She named those after her children.
Over the last few years, people have suggested that some dark night, I should take my Dallas boxes and heave them into an unsuspecting dumpster.
But I can’t do that because, one day decades after I moved away, Mom cut an empty plastic milk jug in half and filled it with potting soil. Then she pushed a red berry deep into the soil. She nurtured it. And after a couple years, the berry grew into Tracey, a giant asparagus fern named for me.
A few days after she died, Mom was cremated.
A year later, on Halloween, a bulldozer rammed the wall of our living room.
By day’s end, Mom’s regular trick-or-treaters would have found nothing but a pile of red bricks and milk jugs scattered on our lot.
Now, in Colorado, I’m preparing to empty my Dallas boxes with some care, because they are what I have left of Mom and the peculiar, overpacked, love-drenched house I grew up in.
What do I want?
- I want my house not to turn into a second-generation clutter trap.
- I want to stop paying monthly storage-unit rent just to keep dusty Dallas dead stuff around.
- And I want to honor the fact that not all of this stuff is dead. I’d like to retain what’s still alive.
For me, that’s Mom. And the house.
Have you seen the movie “Rashomon”? It’s a classic. It was released in Japan in 1950.
It’s famous for a plot device: Several characters each give their interpretation of the same incident – a rape/murder that takes place in a forest.
Their stories vary widely. In fact, they contradict each other.
Akira Kurosawa, who directed “Rashomon,” claimed that he wasn’t interested in who was right and wrong. Instead, he wanted to explore the multiple realities of the characters’ stories.
I think about “Rashomon” as I launch into writing about my childhood home.
I was lucky to grow up in a crowd.
My five siblings are now some of my best friends. Sometimes, listening to them remember incidents from our past, I wonder if they’re referring to the place I grew up, because their memories are so different from mine.
So my Rashomon Disclaimer is this:
Incidents reported in ‘Throwing Mom Away’ reflect solely the memories of me, Tracey.
I grew up with five amazing people. My four sisters and my brother are entertaining individuals and very different from each other. They may have contradictory impressions of events represented here. At least two have photographic memories of everything that went down within the confines of our home’s red-brick walls.
I don’t. All I’ve got is a lot of stuff to bust through and an interest in writing about some of it.
I hope to wrangle my siblings into writing ‘Throwing Mom Away’ guest posts.
But weekly, as I bust my Dallas clutter, you’ll be reading what I remember, the best I recall.