Feb. 27, 2016
Met my sisters at the old house last Saturday to officially start The Process.
Of rummaging, assessing, divvying, donating, and discarding the material and emotional accumulations of two lives intertwined for over 60 years as husband and wife, and nearly as many as Mom and Dad.
I didn’t really have or take the time to think about what to expect.
As odd as it may sound, I was just kinda’ looking forward to experiencing the initiation of The Process through my big sisters’ eyes.
Being the youngest by 10 years, I’ve developed a fairly insatiable curiosity about the early chapters of my parents’ … parenting, and my older siblings’ sibling-ness.
So Saturday I found myself in good company for the bittersweet sorting of and through treasures.
That’s ‘treasure’ in the true sense … of artifacts whose worth transcends and mocks any monetary connotation.
I wasn’t but 30 seconds into my arrival, when my oldest sister Kim unfurled a near life-size version of her seven-year-old self. The likeness produced the same smile it elicited 53 years ago, when Aunt Janet hand-painted it for the rounds of “Pin the Tail on the Kim” that must’ve set a pretty high bar for seven-year-old birthday celebrations in the neighborhood. It’s worth noting that the only artifact that survived my sister’s 7th birthday party was the hand-painted, personalized decoration made by my aunt.
The true gifts aren’t always disguised as gifts.
My sister Laurie ushered me upstairs to my old room. In so many words warned me to brace myself.
That my mom was a packrat was no surprise to me.
But the stacks of lovingly and meticulously—packed tubs that my sisters had extracted from my old bedroom’s closets were not merely the product of someone incapable of throwing things away. They were time capsules whose future value to the one who would open them was well-known by the one who packed them.
I was stopped cold by the first lid I pried off.
Staring back at me was a card from one of the times Billy Karwatske’s Dad took us to the Civic Arena to see professional wrestling, a memory I had had no reason to recall in literally decades. Scanning the names took me back to some BIG moments, like the first time my impressionable 10-year-old ears experienced the truly indescribable reverberation of an arena-full of blood lusty and thirst-quenched Yinzers chanting, “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno!” as the larger-than-life Sammartino throttled the overmatched evil in front of him.
The hair on my arms may or may not have still been standing as I literally bounded down the steps to show my sisters, not pausing to consider how little interest they might have in my reminiscing about the first time I saw Andre the Giant in six-man-tag action live. Although we lacked the means for such clinical diagnoses back in a day, I’m pretty sure that the experience was my first time completely LOSING MY SHIT.
Yeah. One item in to the first box I was.
It heralded an afternoon (and afternoons to come) where progress was to be measured in ways other than assessing and editing.
What moved me about all the containers stacked and strewn about my old room had only so much to do with presents from my youth, but much more to do with the presence of my mother, which I felt as strongly on Saturday as I have since her passing last March.
As I lingered in my old bedroom, Mom and I communed over artifacts whose significance had become even greater in their retirement. I’m confident that she took her time (oh, that woman could take her time) recalling each sweet memory before she sealed the lid on another full tub. My memories were of the very same kindred spirit as I began unpacking them.
I eventually sobered (slightly) to the task at hand, appreciating each container as its own chaptered snapshot … of my childhood, teenage years, college, my first jobs, my old newspaper clippings. I managed to stuff my heart, and my old Subaru, with as much as each could accommodate, and, once home, stacked the first row of tubs in a corner of our already over-stuffed garage.
I’ve found myself spending some quality time visiting my past over the past several months. Though I’ve made fresh tracks along familiar and forgotten roads, I have no intentions of dwelling there.
But the sacred act of blowing dust from such beautiful remembrances has opened my eyes …
…to the preciousness of the present
…to the opportunities we all have to make of the moments memories worthy of someday finding their way into tubs sealed like time capsules
… for loved ones to crack open like buried treasure
…and realize anew, like the generation before them, that the true gifts are not always disguised as gifts.