The old heave-ho is no ho-ho-ho


We’ve been putting things in boxes, looking through the debris collected during a couple of decades and four kids. I find myself saying to myself, thank goodness we don’t have an attic. But, there is the cellar, oh, and that foul garden shed. I say lots more, some of it aloud, most of it under my breath. For instance, let’s get a big dumpster.

For instance, out loud I say, Look at this sweet card from kid one. She must have been in middle school. Look at this picture of kid two. Did he ever look that goopy? Here’s that sailing story that kid three wrote. It was funny enough, but I never could understand why she wanted to broadcast the news of my bad navigation. Or, God, is there no way to get rid of kid four’s miserable brown convertible futon bed. I never liked that thing. It’s polluting the entire second floor, and he’s never here anymore. Or, who are these people and places in this fat, black photo album. I don’t recognize anything in it? How did this stranger’s album get mixed in with all of ours?

To myself, I say, Now I know why nobody has bookshelves in their houses anymore. Books are so heavy, and they add up so quickly, but I don’t want to get rid of any of them. Or, why in heaven’s name did we hang onto all these old Christmas cards? Some of them are 15 years old, and the senders have died or will soon. They’ve got to go.

If you are an empty-nester and you’re sifting through the remains as we’ve been doing, the absence of the children, all living their lives as they should be, to hell and gone across the country, oppresses us. After all, there’s so much to tote, and all of the kids, plus a couple of in-laws, are healthy, strong, and capable of a tremendous amount of toting. Most of the time, naturally, in the duet of our current lives, we chatter about them happily, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Now, we’re thinking a sextet would make this drudgery less onerous. It might even be fun. The work of deciding — this stays, this goes, or, for instance, this goes with you back to California or Colorado, or it goes into the dumpster — would move more quickly and more surely.

Moll found a defoliating copy of “The Wonder Clock,” Howard and Katherine Pyle’s illustrated collection of 24 stories for children. You’ll find it in the Yesterday’s Classics department of some bookstores and the comparable dustbin aisle of some libraries — soon, you’ll find me there too. It was a staple of ours, and of our children, but some of its magic has been drained away by TV, video, YouTube, games, texts, streaming video, Netflix, etc. Our year-and-a-half-old grandchild may not prize it, when she’s old enough to read. Plus, this copy is paper and crumbling. Isabella can read it on Kindle if she likes. What to do with it? We’ll probably save it, cherish it, and leave it to the kids, who, one day, will shake their heads, smile curiously — fondly too I hope — when they find it.

Naturally, there is advice on doing this melancholy work. Tons of websites, even books — probably not available for download — offer tips and comfort, because even bloggers know that sometimes readers need sympathy.

For instance: “Pack as you go. Gather packing supplies and slowly make your way through each room. Sort, pile, and pack. Keep items you’re donating or giving to friends or family in one room or area of the house, preferably somewhere that you don’t go very often. Or better yet, once you have a lot of items ready, call the people whom you’d like to have it, whether it’s your family or a charitable organization. Get items out of your reach as soon as possible. It’s so easy to change your mind or to start pulling items out of the pile.” This from the New York Times site, I imagine the 24-year-old who wrote this. It’s her first job. Except for moving from her dorm room to her first shared apartment, using plastic bags for luggage and a boyfriend for brawn, she hasn’t accumulated much or done much deciding. That’s why she can say so easily, “Get items out of your reach as soon as possible. It’s so easy to change your mind or to start pulling items out of the pile.”

We do less getting things out of our reach and more pulling things out of the pile than we do packing. Sort, pile, and pack may be our marching orders. But, wait a minute, what’s this, remember, retrieve, unpack, moon over things that ought to get the old heave-ho — that’s apparently our approach. This may be work without end for us.