A ritual that occurs at some point in most of our lives is clearing the home after the death of a parent. I am helping my mom this weekend clear closets and drawers to help get ready to put her house on the market. We move slowly. We stop and read letters, look at diplomas and photographs, and argue over garbage bags. In the back of almirah, we find a file full of letters from my grandfather, who exhorted my father to save money and not come back too quickly to India. My father listened. When we finally made the return trip, my grandfather had passed away. Now, my mother is left with one brother, and me and my brother, and a host of nieces and nephews from siblings and cousins.
Friends and neighbors visit during the day, bringing food and gifts, amid the half-filled boxes and trash bags headed for donation sites. Should we keep the animals made of shells that my late aunt presented us with long ago? Do we say thank you, Kondo-style, and toss? What of the funny clock I got as a nine -year-old, shaped like a totem pole, with plastic eyes that moved with each tick and tock? Hundreds of books, notebooks filled with sudoku, a bag of gift bags and bows? Clothing and shoes are easy to toss, but the ceramics we made as kids? The hand-made cards? We make tea, eat biscuits, work some more.
Why are there bunny ears in the closet? A relic of my brother’s P-race fare, along with a plastic orange lei. Toss. A box of albums by America, Renaissance, Jethro Tull, but wait–there is the boxed set of Sandy Denny, The White Album, and the Sex Pistols. Keep. Cassettes– loving made, traded, played? Toss.
Old perfume bottles, knitting needles, sewing kits from hotels. Photographs. Diplomas. Paintings from my niece from the first ten years of her life. My doll Henrietta, with bandaged arms and legs, with clothes sewn by mother, including a fashionable blue corduroy coat, a garden-print dress, and overalls with a tiny jacket to match. I get lost, dreamy, besieged by memory, acute attachment.
Dad. What have you done to us to make us pack up way before we thought you would?