I can’t say that I was looking forward to helping my mom prepare for her upcoming move into a retirement community. I knew that my mom doesn’t make decisions easily, and would therefore need help in deciding exactly what she wanted to take with her into her new apartment. And I also knew that Mom has a ton of stuff in her house to be sorted through, and that we’re going to have to figure out exactly what to do with all the things that she no longer wants. Moving from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment requires some serious downsizing and a whole lot of time and work.
But while it hasn’t exactly been fun to spend hours on end at Mom’s house emptying out closets, sorting through her kitchen cabinets and opening all the boxes stored in her basement, there’s been an unexpected upside to this whole procedure. Because while some of those boxes, drawers and closets are full of the stuff that probably should have been donated or thrown away years (if not decades) ago, we’ve also discovered some family things that have made all the effort worthwhile.
I found a scrapbook that my mom made for the 10th anniversary celebration of my dad’s ordination. Sounds boring, I know, but that scrapbook was filled with photos of our family and articles about us that I hadn’t ever seen because I wasn’t living at home when Mom made the scrapbook. Or when she decided to put it in a box and leave it in that unopened box during three subsequent moves. (Now you see why I insist on opening all the boxes for this move.)
We also found an invitation to wedding of my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother, which I plan to frame. And it was great fun looking through the folder my parents had made when we were planning my wedding, especially when we looked at the prices that were being considered. My dad had written, “I told them to forget it!” next to the name of one venue, so I guess it’s safe to assume that they were a bit more expensive than the $11.95 per person we eventually paid for my reception.
Going through Mom’s stuff has brought back so many memories. I loved discovering letters written by relatives who died years ago, because it was almost as if I were hearing their voices again. And finding the copy of my grandfather’s high school report card covered with B’s and C’s was a bit of a surprise, since I had always known him as a smart and successful dentist. Discovering that he had struggled a little in high school made me realize how hard he must have worked for the success he achieved later in life, when he actually taught at dental school.
Some of the documents I found were sad, like the guest books for both of my great-grandparent’s funerals. Even sadder were the telegrams to out-of-town relatives, informing them that my oldest sister died shortly after her premature birth, and asking them to reach out to my mother. But all of it is a record of my family’s past, and therefore also a part of my past.
I am, and always will be, a strict minimalist who firmly believes in the old adage “less is more.” But when it comes to the photos, documents, letters, etc. that record family history, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as too much. It may not have a monetary value, but trust me me….it’s true treasure.