Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's Left Behind

When our dad passed away several years back and my mother was moved to an Alzheimer's facility, my siblings and I were left with heavy hearts and an entire household of stuff to deal with.

My folks had two storage units filled to the brim with a lifetime's accumulation of furniture, books, photographs, clothing, and bric-a-brac. It was up to the four of us to sift through it, decide who gets what, and give the rest to charity.

Here's just a little of what we had to process. Thank goodness nobody else needed to use the hallway that weekend!

We tackled the big stuff first. Using an ornate system of "bidding" for items, and ranking our bids in order of preference, we divided up the items four ways, for the four sibs. Thanks in part to my mother's meticulous notes, we had a fair idea of what we'd find in the storage units. We knew who was getting what before we opened the padlocks. This helped us avoid a lot of delays and emotional side trips, since we mostly knew what to expect.

My dad's military tuxedo, lovingly referred to as "the monkey suit"--not sure why.

Me, being silly while modeling a fantastic hounds-tooth coat that belonged to my Nana.

It took two full days of heavy, physical work, in a very hot storage facility. At the time, I had two pugs, and they had to endure long, boring hours while my siblings and I labored away, dragging things out, loading them on dollies, carting them down to our cars, and stuffing things puzzle-piece-fashion into our trunks and pickup trucks.

Trying to fit one last big piece of furniture into my brother's pickup.

By the time we were finished, we exhausted but exhilarated.

Me, Won Ton, and Mu Shu utterly depleted from all that work.

At the end of the weekend, we rewarded ourselves with Margaritas and toasted to our success at keeping a sense of humor and emphasizing our love for each other throughout the whole, arduous process.

My brother, my sisters, and I, admiring a very tightly packed pickup truck my bro will drive back to his home in Oregon.

Cheers! The big black dog is Kobe, my sister's sweet puppy, of blessed memory. Can you say that about a dog? Sure, why not?


Left behind for us to tackle another day were boxes and boxes of books, letters, photographs, and home-movie reels.

We couldn't handle any more, so we shoved the whole shebang into my sister's garage and slammed the door shut. Now, a couple of years after my Mom's passing, we are beginning to tackle that stuff, too.

My sisters took on the correspondence. Mom and Dad kept every card and letter--and envelope--ever written to them, so it was fairly straightforward work to sort them all. Each of us siblings will soon receive a pile of correspondence, from our earliest childhood through maturity, that we wrote our parents. Those of us with children will also receive any letters our kids wrote their Nana and Grandpa. So far, so good.

I was charged with taking home boxes and boxes of uncatalogued books, slides, and home-movie reels. These things are temporarily piled all over my living room.

A new interior-decor look: hoarder chic!

The books are intriguing. There are tomes on backpacking and local history (Dad's interests). There are really old books on engineering and agriculture that belonged to his dad, who was born in 1883. Some of them have his name inscribed in them, and a number that I suspect was his private system of cataloging his books:

I am charged with writing down the author/title/publication information for each book and--if I can--establishing some sort of market price for the books. Some of the volumes will go to us siblings, some to our children, and the rest I suspect will be sent to the Carpinteria or Santa Barbara Historical Society, or sold on eBay.

What cool illustrations are in this book!

Some of the books I remember seeing in my folks' library. This one always interested me. It seems to be some sort of very early New Age/philosophical treatise:

It sports these gorgeous end papers:

And many black-and-white illustrations that remind me of William Blake's:

Tucked into the backs of some books are random clippings from long-ago newspapers. This one is about a gigantic grapevine that once grew in Carpinteria. Love those ladies' hats!:

Along with the books, there are boxes and boxes of slides:

I pulled one envelope out and peeked inside. To my astonishment, there was a photo I'd never seen before. My sister (l.), our dad, our beloved Nana, and I (far right) are getting ready for a family picnic near the shore in Santa Barbara. This was in 1978, right before I left to go live with The Hubby--back before he was The Hubby.

Oh, my goodness. My sister. So, so gorgeous:

Some boxes that I peeked inside held grubby old rubber bands and bits of string. *Sigh.* This is very much something my Dad did. Like a lot of people who were young during the Great Depression, it affected him for life, and he was a bit of a hoarder.

I also opened boxes and boxes of old home movies, meticulously annotated in Dad's hand:

So, that's what I'm doing for the rest of the summer: cataloging stuff.

The books are pretty straightforward: Note the title, author, and publishing info. Try to get an idea how much it might go for on eBay. Create a list and send it around.

The slides are a little tougher: I can happily say goodbye to scenes of haystacks or mountains. Who needs 'em? The ones with only one sibling, or one sibling's family, will of course go to that sibling. The harder problem will be how to divvy up slides that have several of us in them, or that are of relatives who have died? We may have to spring for making copies of the slides. Or prints.

But the movies? Oy. Until technology gets better/faster/cheaper, I fear the home movies will continue to languish. I am hoping for a gizmo some day that can translate old home films onto DVDs or something cheap and easily copied.

For now, the films are what's left behind.


  1. Thanks, Sister...A nice accounting for all of us to hold on to and remember. xoxo

  2. Well, you certainly are the right one for this job--organized, knowledgeable, geneologically (?) oriented--I'm just sorry it's so much "stuff" to go through. At least, there's no time frame it has to happen in. Thanks so much for taking it on, and I hope you find some fun/meaningful/interesting things along the way (I'm already looking forward to seeing the slides). BTW, who is that woman in red and what has she done with my former self?



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