Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Journey of a thousand memories.

It began with squeezing into my tiny seat on the airplane (are they getting smaller or am I getting bigger?). I started to read a new book which began with… “twas the night before my birthday and all through the house” (or words to that effect).  I was riveted already… It was a couple of nights before my birthday I was on my way to experience what was “all through the house”.

The synchronicity, not only of the opening line, but of the entire book accompanied (and at times haunted) me throughout the next ten days. It was about a family with five children, a father who spent part of his life in the Orient, a small cabin on a mosquito-infested property in Ontario, and a mother who, in her later years was treated by a family doctor who used to practice with my sister. The parents were members of a Church whose choir I was lucky enough to accompany a couple of years ago to Britain.  The dad had very similar habits as ours.  (As an example, he would take all of the kids’ shoes down to his workshop and polish them every night as did our Dad.)  And the story was all about letting go of the family home and its contents and carefully preserving memories for future sustenance.

There were times when I had to put the book down as the parallel story felt surreal. I was also in awe of the author’s ability to capture the exact emotions that were surfacing in all of us. It was actually really validating to know that someone else had many conflicting emotions about her parents, how they raised her, how she saw and was seen by her siblings, and how they dealt with tragedy as a family (she, in losing a brother, and I, in losing my son).

We all worked together to prepare our home for the next occupants – a young family who saw it as the perfect place to raise their kids – and we scrubbed it from stem to stern with love. Even though mom has begun her descent into dementia, she was very aware of what was happening, and very determined that the new family be warmly welcomed with flowers, a stuffed teddy bear for the little girl, and each bathroom ready for use with soap and toilet paper.  One of the last vignettes that has stuck in my mind is of her sweeping the front porch with great intention and pride.  I am so proud of her.  She definitely brought her A game to the task at the end.

It wasn’t an easy process.  My three sisters and brother worked tirelessly for months with Mom wanting to be there as well. Mom definitely had a hard time letting go of things, and it was frustrating for the others as she couldn’t grasp the consequences of holding on. There were many times that the temptation to just give stuff away when she wasn’t looking was huge, but to their credit, she was involved in every decision and no one had to lie about where stuff went.  I was able to go back east 2 or 3 times and do quick decluttering blitzes but the others bore the brunt of the gargantuan task and I am indebted to them for not just the work, but for their integrity.

(Joanne and Faye… if you are reading this, please don’t share this next bit with Mom. It’s the only thing we did without her knowledge…)

The five of us really wanted to have the home to ourselves just one more time, so late at night, we all went back and said our goodbyes. We went around to each room and shared our favourite memories. Oh, the stories! It was a good thing Mom wasn’t there! In fine Found fashion, we laughed uproariously at stories that some of us never knew, and quietly endured our watering eyes that other memories evoked.  Then we left for the last time, huddled around the outdoor light and took a selfie with “1347” blazing in the background. We were quiet, serene, and very peaceful for a moment. Closure.

We figured it out that although Dad built the house over 50 years ago, the most any of us ever lived in it was 13 years. We realized that we all only lived together for maybe 10.  It was in those 10 years that the foundation for our adult lives was truly forged. But we all kept coming back with our boyfriends, then husbands, then children, and now grandchildren.  (Even my son, although he never lived there, was clearly moved by the conveyance of our family homestead to new owners.)

We asked each other how we were going to handle our own belongings.  Would we leave the task to our kids? Should we do it for them?  Leave them with nothing to disperse except for the few things that still may have sentimental value for them?

Now, as was the author, I am conflicted.  Although the task was huge, would we have had as many illuminating moments of who our parents really are? Would we have ever known about some of those life-changing moments that only got talked about because we unearthed some hardly-recognizable piece of yesteryear that instantly brought to mind a story? Would we have learned, even just a little bit, to be more honest about our emotions in front of each other (not a strong point in our family)? Would we have come to appreciate each other more because of the close proximity for days on end that hadn’t happened since we all lived together years ago as children?

Here’s to you… Marion, Margaret, Paul, and Jennifer, and to you, Mom, not just for the last 10 days, but for a lifetime of learning how to be a loving sister and daughter,  (in spite of my wild-horse tendencies), and for supporting my journey in this lifetime.  I couldn’t have come this far without you.  I love you guys.

Sentimentally yours,

Christie (a.k.a. Buns, Crocket, Bugsy, etc.) nee Found

P.S.  The final coincidence?  The house in the book was sold to a woman named Hillary... as was ours. (They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson.) I hope to share with her some day how profoundly she influenced my own experience.

And, as always, a little tune to send you on your way... "Home sings me of sweet things..."