Friday, August 31, 2012

An Archiological Dig

Sorting through Mama's house was akin to a geological dig. She kept every church bulletin, magazine, catalog, letter, card, and bill she ever received. And they were all neatly stored in baskets, boxes, and hat boxes, all in chronological order. I use the word "neatly" loosely - as neat as one can stack, stash, and cram all the paperwork of one's life into various types and sizes of containers. 

So going through any given box or basket was like exploring a time period, layer by layer, newest to oldest, top to bottom . And, it was most interesting because important bills, family pictures, and the occasional $100 bill were included randomly in the assortment, each piece had to be sorted by hand to make sure nothing of significance was discarded. 

After we removed anything of value from the house for safekeeping and security, my brother and I launched into an archaeological dig of the last 60 years of my mother's life. Naturally, much of it was nostalgic, such as the guest book friends and family signed at our mother and father's wedding 58 years ago, our baby pictures, prom pictures (God - those dresses were hideous), report cards (most, I would rather forget), and home made cards the grand kids had made for her. Some of it was bazaar. For example, does one really need four plastic ponchos? Are wouldn't one be curious to see what was on the twelve used disposable cameras that had never been developed? 

A few things we could not make hide nor hair of - various metal rods and pieces of wood that seemed not to fit anything or go anywhere. And, several things made no sense what-so-ever. Does one really need several hundred paperclips, several dozen Sharpie markers in various colors (still in the packages), or three dozen empty picture frames of various sizes (also still in their wrappers)? 

And, while everything in any given container was in chronological order, just because you had just sorted through July - August of 2003, you could not expect the next basket or hat box to contain the papers for May - June of 2003. You were just as likely to find January - February of 1993 or July of 2012. So trying to find a paper or bank statement from a particular date was akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. 

After a day and a half, we had managed to get through the guest bedroom. Exhausted, we began to wonder if we even making progress. Instead of a very full bedroom, we now had a living room with a large stack of empty baskets, boxes, and hat boxes. A dining room table with (fairly) organized stacks of bank statements, insurance bills, medical statements, and other important papers. There was a sun room full of those things "too good to throw away but we have no use for". Piles of what we wanted to keep and a dozen trash bags full of rubbish. 

Her bedroom was next. There was no telling what it would reveal. Given the neat stack of five hat boxes in the corner, as my Daddy always said, "Only the shadows knows for sure."


Barbara said...

My mother, a child of the Great Depression, had about a hundred postage-paid return envelopes from various charities, etc, that I guess she thought she might cross out the address and use them to mail her own letters and get the charities to pay the postage! Also, several bags full of small, 2-inch wide circles of fabric cut off the hems of every pair of pants she'd bought and shortened over the last few years. Oh, and fabric scraps I recognized from blouses I had made in the 7th and 8th grades, back around 1972! You never know when you might need that stuff!

Ann Currie said...

Yes, we had the fabric remnants from the altered pants, 20 or so blank small note books, 12 rolls of aluminum foil, and at least 5 unopened boxes of trash bags. (And, she lived by herself!)