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Sorting Out A Lifetime

Story ID:130
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Location:Chicago IL USA
Person:Garnet Julien
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Sorting Out A Lifetime

Sorting Out A Lifetime
Nancy Julien Kopp

My husband and I are taking a trip soon, one that does not excite me, doesn't make me wake before dawn, eager to be on the road. Ken and I will drive ten hours from our Kansas home, across the Flint Hills and the prairie. We'll head east, cross the Mississippi River and, shortly after, turn northward. We will travel through the flat Illinois farmland, past the town where I spent my happy college years, and we'll end up in a western suburb of Chicago. Ken will pull into my mother's driveway, turn off the engine and proceed to get out of the car, stretching to work out the stiffness that assails us these days when we travel any distance. I will sit there a bit longer, putting off the inevitable. Then, I, too, will venture out and straighten up slowly before entering my mother's home.
Here is where we will spend a week, or more, if need be, sorting out all the things she has collected over a lifetime. She is 84 and has reached a point where she cannot stay alone in her home, cannot take care of it like she always has. She is in a weakened state from not eating properly or drinking as many fluids as she should. She falls easily and, then, is unable to get up without help. She has escaped having to deal with broken bones, and we are thankful for that. Her mental condition is good for her age. Other than some mild short-term memory loss, she does very well in that department.
With every hospitalization, and there have been many, my three brothers and I have pleaded with her to change her living situation. Our pleas have fallen on deaf Scots-Irish ears.
Stubbornness is both an asset and a detriment in her character make-up. But now, the time has come, and she has agreed to go to North Carolina with my brother, Paul, and his wife, Jan. They are leaving Chicago to spend their retirement years near a daughter and her family. Mother has been invited to join them many times, but she always invents an excuse of some sort. At last, she is ready to make the move. We have given her several options, and this is the one she has chosen.
Ken and I will help her get the house ready to sell and sort through the material things that have accumulated over the years. She must get rid of far more than she can take with her. This past week, I have lain in bed on quiet nights and mentally gone through her house, room by room. I know much of what I will find, and I also know I am in for a few surprises, too.
How can I tell her she must get rid of the leaf man picture my younger brother made in first grade? It was the first sign of his artistic nature, something none of the rest of us had. What about the boxes of photographs showing our family at the beach or the zoo back in the forties and fifties, pictures of Mother holding a baby boy with me standing at her side--age four. Her smile lights up her eyes, revealing what a happy time of her life this is. Pictures of Mother and Dad in 1938, the year they were married…poor as church mice but too happy to worry about it.
There will be cookbooks that are dog-eared and yellowed, handed down from mother to daughter. I will find cake pans that have baked more birthday cakes than we can count. Heavy frying pans and saucepans that held the delectable things she lovingly prepared for her family are still stacked up in a drawer under the oven. She is too weak to lift many of them now.
My heart will ache when I come to the framed pictures that grace the tops of chests and bookshelves. There are far too many to take to North Carolina. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren smile at her from these pictures, sent to her with love. There are
pictures of my grandmother, of Mother and her brother when they were little children living in an Iowa coal mining town. How will she choose which ones to take along?
Next will be linens of all kinds. I can almost smell the scent of them being ironed. Tablecloths and sheets, towels and blankets stacked high. Two china cabinets filled with china and glassware collected a little at a time. My grandma's china, Grandma's beautiful, painted china serving pieces ... these are things she can pass on to some of her family members. How hard it will be for her to decide what goes to whom. Will she look at each piece and think back to a story about it? Oh yes, for my Mother is a great storyteller.
We will go through each room, and she will tell me one story after another while my heart cracks a tiny bit more with each tale, knowing how difficult this is for her. Most of the things she has collected will go, but the memories and the stories will stay with her forever. My dad passed away over six years ago, but, in her heart, he is right there with her every single day. And, so it will be with all these treasures of a lifetime that we have sifted and sorted. Tears and smiles, joy and sorrow--we'll have them all as we pack up her treasured possessions and send her off on a new adventure. The people of North Carolina have a treat in store for them should they happen to meet my mom, for she has a lifetime of stories to tell.

Cc. 2002
This story has been published in two anthologies.