Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Memories fill boxes, yet fit in a pocket
So this is it.
Thirty-six boxes are stacked in neat piles in the garage of my 85-year-old mom's soon-to-be-vacant house.
Mom has moved into the personal-care area of her retirement community. We have cleaned out her small cottage, choosing just a few pieces of furniture and personal items for her new room and packing everything else into boxes destined for an auction house.
It seems hardhearted, but my family lives in a little house. It's already filled with lots of our own junk.
And so we decided not to try to absorb new stuff, likely to be stored in our basement until some day, years hence, when our own children would have to sort through it and try to figure out: A. What is it? B. Why did mom and dad keep it? and C. What in the heck should we do with it? (As proof, my mom had been carting around a set of her own grandma's dishes for years, finally offloading them to my niece with this move.)
It's only stuff, I keep telling myself.
But it's our stuff, the stuff of decades of family memories made on Sunbury Street in Michigan and Rhoda Drive in Manheim Township.
My childhood is in those boxes.
The carnival glass pitcher that held the red Kool-Aid that my mom mixed up, with gobs of white sugar, to be poured into cups on a hot day.
Those cups: brown plastic mugs, one of which still has my name magic-markered on the bottom from the summers I took it to Camp Kirchenwald as my toothbrush cup.
My grandma's Swiss sewing scissors, the pair with the intricately designed metal handles that I always thought looked as if they came straight from Heidi's chalet in the Alps.
The good china that we always ate the scrambled eggs and coffee cake from at midnight after coming home from church on Christmas Eve.
I decide to take two things: a flowered porcelain coffee cup with a matching saucer (likely purchased at Joyce Gibbel's in the Lancaster Shopping Center back in the day) from the collection that my mom used when she hosted her neighborhood bridge group; and a Hummel figurine of -- of all things -- a goat standing behind a kerchiefed girl who I always hoped looked like me, if only I were lucky enough to live in Heidi's chalet in the Alps.
The rest gets carefully packed away in boxes over the course of a week, as we wander through rooms that gradually empty in some weird, time-lapse photography way. We sort and label the boxes, as if "kitchen stuff" could do justice to those homely salad bowls my thrifty mom used for my entire life.
My mom asks my three kids if they want anything, and they all pick the same thing: a pair of little wooden horses that she and the kids would take turns hiding in her house for the other one to find. Time winds backward, and I hear the excited voice of my little boy, now 6 feet tall, shouting, "GOOD ONE, GRANDMA!" upon discovering one. But the horses already have found a home in Grandma's new room. Until another day.
My youngest shrugs.
"I have lots of good memories of Grandma's house," she says. "I don't need any of her stuff."
That's what I thought.
But now I stand alone in a garage, staring at those boxes.
Tucked into my jeans is a plastic Santa Claus, no bigger than your thumb, that my mom used to place in the leaves of a philodendron plant at Christmastime. I found it in the very last drawer we cleaned out.
I drive away, feeling its tiny feet against my hip, carrying a lifetime of memories under its pointed, jaunty hat.
It fits in my pocket.
And my heart.