Another Chapter in the Book of Life
The deed is done and done well-gallantly even. They came, we worked, we laughed, we tried not to cry and we spent a fair amount of time running various scenarios through our collective memories. We shook our heads in amazement, occasionally, but not with any disrespect, only with an ever-expanding wonder at the depth and breadth of all that we found.
We were cleaning the big house up here on Bell Springs Road, three of my siblings, a bro-law and a sweet-niece, working industriously for much of one day and a long second day, trying to get a handle on a lifetime’s possessions. I might say accessories because Pauline has already taken those things most precious with her, first to Willits and then on to Windsor, but again, the last thing I-or any of us-wanted to do was trivialize either her possessions or her request.
By getting a handle on a lifetime’s possessions, I simply mean to take everything of any personal value to Pauline, box it up, and make it available to her over time, for her to peruse and decide what she would like to have done with it. We have consistently refused to express spoken blame or criticism of our matriarch at her lack of foresight to this inevitable step that we are taking. For those who would criticize her for failing to deal more realistically with her things earlier in life, I would respond that she never saw the time coming when she would no longer have access to her home on the mountain.
Mama is ninety-one and very frail, physically. Intellectually, she can still function very well, thank you very much, but any excursion outside of the assisted-living facility in which she dwells, is very challenging for all involved. It’s one of the reasons we are all so pleased that she has adapted to her surroundings so well, and the people within those walls.
The idea that she would be able to make the long trek up here again is just unthinkable-there are too many issues which arise every day, that would make the whole venture not only unsafe, but downright hazardous. We were dealing with a home that has not been lived in for going on three years. The results were predictable, but not insurmountable.
The house has been the scene of a rodent-fest, with the little varmints invading every part of the dwelling, searching out food and material with which to build their nests. They found an abundance of both. Again, this is not a criticism, only an observation; I have no desire to offend anyone, in any way.
Our job was to sort, analyze each item for emotional connections to Herself, classify and distribute to a number of potential destinations. I won’t go through all of the minutiae of the process, but just ponder the books for a moment, if you will. Vast, unlimited quantities of action-packed thrillers, dramas, classics, who-done-its, and an endless list of other topics and genres.
Both Robert and Pauline were already lifetime readers, and moving up on a mountain, where the winters are long and cold, only fostered this occupation. Pauline dabbled in exchanging books with The Book Juggler in Willits and a few other used bookstores, but she always brought more home than she took back.
But brother Eric has taken on the mantle of going through the books, keeping the ones he wants, making available others to family members, and finding homes for the rest. For quite a while there, books were being boxed up and relocated, but it was such a time-consuming endeavor, that it was deemed appropriate that Eric take care of the business of the books himself.
But there were countless other instances of specific items that would have no value to Pauline, being distributed to any one of many piles. Of course, much of the contents are slated for the local Goodwill in Willits, along with the Senior Center in the old complex where Pauline lived for a bit over two years. Many household items, such as the dishes, pans, silverware and cleaning utensils were simply left as is. Pauline doesn’t need any more dishes, and the next person to live in the house just may.
So what we accomplished is the complete removal and close examination of the contents of the house. The women spent much of their time going through the office and Pauline’s room, packing up correspondence, photo albums, keepsakes and personal papers. They went through Pauline’s wardrobe and gathered a selection of items to supplement what was already in Windsor, and they boxed everything up for her to look at.
Kevin kept the pace lively and even took the first selection of goodwill items down to Willits to get the ball rolling. Isabel never stopped packing, hauling, moving, maneuvering and just plain putting the pedal to the metal. Michael was everywhere, moving mountains of valuables to their respective spots. We got a huge boost from Nathanielito who showed up the first day to help with the moving and brought a trailer with him, hooked up to his truck. It was inevitable that there would be unusable items and items damaged by rodents, so it nice to have the means to dispose of these things. Casey and Amber got into the act, loading up their truck with recycling and agreeing to facilitate the removal of the rest of the items going to Goodwill.
There was a great deal of humor, simply because it is far more acceptable to conceal deeper feelings through humor than through pathos. It was harder for those of us who spent a lot of time over the years up at the big house.
Laura and I reminisced that we used to pack up the families and head over to the big house whenever we would get those three dayers in, snowstorms that would go non-stop for three days. We’d watch films, play bridge, the boys and their cousin, Erin Rose, would play with the Leggos and read books, and we’d eat and drink. Those are the times that I think back most fondly on the big house.
I must admit that I found the whole cleansing process much easier than I might have thought. The only time I struggled with my emotions was the first time I wandered out to the gate to the orchard to indulge in a quick dose of my medication. While thus engaged, I glanced out over the orchard and was stunned to see that it had completely returned to the jungle that existed, before we reurrected it a few years ago, and fired up Robert’s old garden.
Now the blackberries have once more stormed the walls and retaken the orchard, and it made me want to break down and cry. Not the house, not the contents of the house, but the orchard. All of the weed-eating I did, and all of the effort to keep the trees watered and nurtured, and it would all have to be done again. Someday.
We all agreed when the work was done that Pauline’s wishes had been carried out to the max, and that everything that could have been done to protect the integrity of the process, had indeed, been accomplished.
Pauline now has the knowledge that the chapter of her life up here on Bell Springs Road is over. It may be over but it is not forgotten. She spent the last thirty-five years up on the mountain that she did not want to live on in the first place, and I have to believe they were good years.
We packed up a lot of good memories in those boxes but we couldn’t pack up the memories we hold in our minds and that’s a good thing. We’ll carry those memories around with us and they will be one thing that we won’t have to worry about packing up when we go.