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Dead Relatives' Junk

Posted Sep 17 2013 8:30am

It's been more than 21 years since I cleared out my mother's home after she died. There wasn't much. She had known she was dying and had, apparently, got rid of all but bare essentials before she was too sick to handle the chore.

There was little I needed to do. Some of the furniture, other big items, the TV and the car went to friends along with the dollhouses she liked to build from scratch. Almost everything else went to a charity group or into a dumpster.

For myself, I set aside the family photo albums, some modest jewelry she owned and – inexplicably - a small footstool covered in a needlepoint scene of Versailles that my mother had made and a cheap, dime-store jewelry box.

I say “inexplicably” about those last two items because they are awful.

Since my mother has now been dead for more than two decades, today I am giving myself permission to say out loud that she had terrible taste. In pretty much everything.

That footstool wasn't the only needlepoint in her home – dozens of needlepoint pictures were framed on the walls. Scenic vistas, dogs, cats and I have forgotten which president of the U.S. but given her politics, I'm guessing it was Ronald Reagan.

There was nothing particularly wrong with the style of the furniture in her home but the brassy colors and mismatched patterns could make you dizzy.

In clothing too, she had no sense of either style or color. Zero. One of the things she did better than anyone else I've ever known is knit and over the years I received dozens of sweaters.

The basic styles were good – pullovers, cardigans, turtlenecks, etc. - all of them beautifully and perfectly constructed in various weights of wool so that they were (or, would have been) useful for different seasons of the year.

But every one was made in colors so garish they could have lighted up Times Square at night.

Unless the sweater was made of black wool (which I begged for now and then), it was unwearable.

Having said all that, maybe I should redeem my mother's taste a bit.

When I was going through the unpredictable hot flashes of menopause, I complained to her in a phone call that I was pained to have had to give up silk blouses, skirts, pants and dresses.

A few weeks later, a big box arrived from Mom. Inside were ten sweatshirts each a different color – nice colors, not wild and weird as the sweaters usually were. And sewn to the front of each sweatshirt was lace dyed to exactly match the color of the sweatshirt.

They were subtle and beautiful and fantastically useful in the circumstance of menopausal hot flashes. Worn under suit and other jackets, the shirts were perfectly acceptable for travel and business meetings and no one knew when I was drowning in sweat.

Anyway, back to that footstool and jewelry box.

Ever since my mother died those many years ago, I have been using that ugly jewelry box for my own earrings, pins and necklaces. And every time I open the drawer to choose something from that box, I tell myself it is time to let it go and buy my own.

That dreadful footstool – also shorter than what I prefer – still sits in front of a certain chair. I use it every other day when I do bicep curls during my morning exercise routine.

I tell myself I have other footstools I can use but then I picture myself tossing it into a dumpster. That doesn't feel so good. It feels no better when I think about trashing that tatty jewelry box.

This is just stupid. Do other people do this with parents' or other relatives' ordinary items after they die?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Deb: A Steady Job at $1.25 a Day

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