The Things We Keep

Yesterday I went to my Dad’s condo.  I don’t go there often, actually avoiding it as much as I can.  It makes me sad to be there.  When a person dies, aside from love and memories, what remains is their stuff.  Junk now, to most anybody but the deceased.  I don’t say that as a disparagement to my dear Da, but as truth.  The weight of it, how I feel when I am around the remnants of my Dad’s life, is a heavy burden to bear.

When my Mom died ten years ago, I was buffered from the responsibility of taking care of her things, as it was my Dad’s call.  Now, there is no one left to call it.  It will go.  The four kids will pick through what remains of his life and find for ourselves what holds meaning.  There are books and my Mom’s oil paintings, some of his treasures from travels to Ireland, photographs.

What we keep close to us in our day-to-day lives says something about us, I think.  Our things are revealing.  One of the things that has always made me wistful when visiting my Dad was seeing what he kept of my Mom’s.

He has been a bachelor for the last ten years of his life, and if he ever dated or enjoyed another romance, he kept it to himself. Because of that, he lived a bachelor’s lifestyle.  Frozen food.  Not a lot of creature comforts.  A spare home life that didn’t involve hosting others.

He was surrounded by a lot of paper in his last years.  Piles of papers and a hodgepodge of his interests that hung on the walls — photographs of buses and trains (his life’s work was in transportation), union posters rallying the middle class, calendars marking his days.

There, in the middle of all that bachelor random chaos, was my family’s china cabinet I remember so well from childhood.  The dining table was now used as a desk, but a few feet away was the companion china cabinet.

The cabinet was devoid of papers.  It’s glass was kept clean, making it easier to see the treasures inside.  There, among the piles of ten years of widowhood, the china cabinet stood tall, uncluttered, reminding my Dad, I imagine, of a life he once lived with my Mom when the papers were confined to his desk or garage.  A better life, maybe.  A more comfortable life, certainly.

I miss my folks terribly.  Never more than when I stand in my Dad’s empty condo surrounded by what remains of their lives together, my Dad’s life alone.  46 years of marriage, 10 years of widowhood, and all that remains are boxes of papers and a china cabinet full of Waterford crystal, ornate knick knacks, hand painted plates with delicate flowers and birds, and porcelain vases.

That china cabinet was my Dad’s last day-to-day connection to my Mom. It held the pieces of their lives together that grounded him somehow and was, I believe, his uncluttered homage to their marriage.

My Mom and Dad in a favorite photo taken by me sometime in the early 2000s in Alabama.  They spent their winters in Gulf Shores, Alabama leaving the cold Illinois winters behind.
My Mom and Dad in a favorite photo taken by me sometime in the early 2000s in Alabama. They spent their winters in Gulf Shores, Alabama leaving the cold Illinois winters behind.

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