Sweet Bitter with the Better

Yesterday my husband and I attended the wedding of a widower and a widow. It was lovely to share in the union before heaven of two people who have been through a couple of thick slices of life.

The invitation said, quite firmly, No Gifts.  Of course not!  Two fully-equipped homes were marrying each other that day…

I smiled remembering our own later-in-life wedding not so long ago.  Everyone had known it was soon to be followed by a cross-country move.  Everyone understood why we were quite firm about No Gifts.  But of course folks had snuck in a few store gift cards into their greetings and it was so sweet to find them.  We decided we would pass that blessing along.

This morning I persisted with shredding old tax returns and found myself battling ghosts as I fed pages and pages documenting half-forgotten memories of old jobs, unanswered questions, questionable decisions and discarded plans past the steel teeth.   If we could put time in a bottle, uncork it once we KNOW, and get to do some of this over again….

This stirring up of memories.  If we look hard and deeply at our reluctance to clear out our closets, I believe we’ll find it’s to avoid facing the memory, both sweet and bitter, of who we’ve been and how we’ve come to here.


A few days ago a group of ladies were gathered.  One of us spoke of having reached the stage where she really really needs to weed out her home.  But the hardest part, of course, is deciding about all those gifts dear people have given her over the years….

I came home to find that a box had arrived in the mail.

My aunt (my father’s younger sister) and uncle are moving to a smaller home.  My aunt kindly tells me how much she appreciates this blog and how it has helped her while she sorts and sifts and disperses all that she is ready to let go as they make this transition.

So.  The box.

In it was a beautiful cream-tinged-with-gold shawl my maternal grandmother crocheted for my mother, who passed it on to my paternal grandmother, from whom it traveled to my aunt.  Who figures she knew exactly to whom it had to be handed.

She’s right.  I’ve missed my Grandmother’s hugs lo these forty years and now I can have one again.

And we’re going to a wedding this weekend.  It will suit perfectly.

Paperclips to Rabbits – part two

Decluttering is usually regarded as an exercise in throwing stuff away …

But my session with the Christmas decor had very much not been simply about tossing stuff out of my house.

What I’ve come to call “Second Round Decluttering,” the decluttering that comes after the obvious trash has been  removed, is All About relocating herds of velveteen rabbits into their next briar patch; of finding good homes for the mementoes of once-living hopes, dreams, and plans.  Sometimes those mementoes were our own.  Sometimes we’re decluttering the memories of a life which has ended.

The day after we released six boxes of no-longer-wanted Christmas decor I was still reeling from my eye-opening encounter with those metaphorically – or maybe magically – alive rabbits; still grateful that we’d found the right and respectful way to honor the woman for whom they’d meant something.

While we were out and about on a round of errands, I excused myself from a session involving a hardware store and stepped into a resale shop next door, a benefit project for a local private school.  The store was well-organized but so stuffed with stuff that it took me ten minutes to discover the piano for sale up against the back wall

I walked the aisles of this store with my new eyes, aware that every piece of merchandise held stories, memories of someone’s love and hopes.

There was a shelf full of clean, well-appointed white teddybears in all sorts of sizes, many accessorized with red and green Christmas wear.  I stopped to marvel at their softly gleaming pelts that begged to be stroked and hugged… when a strange face emerged from among them.

It was a fluffy white bunny, harbinger of Easter and rebirth, its soft curly whiteness oddly juxtaposed against those furry guardians of Christmas!

My heart leapt as I lifted it down and felt its lucky rabbit feet.  “Seventy-five cents,” read the bit of masking tape stuck in its ear.

“You have a new home,” I whispered to Snowball my very much alive rabbit.  As soon as we were safely outside, I pulled the tape from his ear….

Paperclips to Rabbits – part one

It has been six and a half years since the passing of my husband’s first wife and two and a half years since I took on the grand decluttering of her stuff.

From the start of the project, whenever I relaxed my single-minded plowing through the boxes and bags of old teaching materials, used books, personal effects, discarded housewares, broken furniture, craft supplies now laid aside, …, I could sense a herd of Velveteen Rabbits whispering from box to box, wondering what had happened to their “Little (Girl) Blue” who had kissed them and boxed them up and told them to be good until she returned. (ref. Marjory Williams and Eugene Field)

Then one evening I returned, a year after my first pass through it, to the decluttering of Christmas stuff — enough to rotate out the decor of three homes for years to come.   On the earlier pass, not daring to discard any rabbits, I’d pulled out only the most obvious trash, repacked the rest more compactly, and labelled all the boxes.

But a year later: a three pound bag of released paperclips and whole herds of released rabbits later?

A year later there was a library benefit garage sale imminent.  There was a deadline for getting donated stuff to its organizers.  A year later I could pack up six cartons of what had meant “Christmas” to her and ready it to go.  And within minutes of unloading it into the capacious site, it was dispersed to the dozens of tables laden with similar stuff.

Oh dear rabbits, I hope you found good homes. I know you have brought blessings to whoever adopted you.

We’ll not miss a molecule of any of it, my husband and I; we kept back what we like.

But now I know much better, this lady whom I never met, one who had dreams of which I am now the chief executor, responsible for their respectful dismantling and laying to rest.

Little Girl Blue’s Troops, Redeployed

The ancient food processor awakened and declared its willingness to serve a new mistress; to work in tandem with the newly arrived hand mixer; to accept partnership with the inscrutable microwave.

(The range was an old friend, but they knew better than to fraternize while on duty.)

The assigned mission was familiar, welcome, enlivening and just specialized enough that if well-performed the food processor’s place in the permanent arsenal would be assured.

It played its rôle, waited and watched as the purée smoothly filled the pie shell then baked to firmness.

The shower afterwards felt good. Secure in its new commission, the food processor returned to its shelf.

Decluttering my new home of the hoard accumulated by my husband’s long ago-deceased first wife feels like traversing a minefield.  There is always the danger of rubbing against unexpected emotion.  But, too, I’ve learned to anticipate my own sudden eruptions of anger borne of exhaustion.

Six months ago while staving off intense irritation at having uncovered Even More Christmas stuff — enough to decorate five homes, and very little of it to my taste — the sentimental poem, “Little Boy Blue” of Eugene Field sprang to mind.   Its references to the little dusty toy dog and the patient rusty tin soldier left behind by a child who had died years earlier rang so truly that I was in tears and in the twinkling of an eye my views on the whole process of discarding for reuse or recycling shifted.

Last night as I was preparing a dessert, I wrote the first line of the preceding vignette.  I finished the tale for this post.

AT THIS TIME, a poem by Vincent Spina

Vincent Spina, friend, retired Associate Professor and poet, gave his friends this poem today along with permission to post it here.

I offer it as balm to all who face memories of departed loved ones and fading dreams while you tackle the dispersal of mountains of stuff.  At the end of this post I will share some of what I wrote in response.

AT THIS TIME — by Vincent Spina

News has reached us, Ladies and Gentlemen
—midnight travelers and uneasy risers, sus-
pended between moments of sleep and waking—
and it is our pleasure to bring mind-scraps

of old home-sites, dimly remembered and all
those who shared with you (be they friends or family,
living or dead) so that you may sing a song
or two, toast a home-run or Hail Mary pass,

recall past loves that may or never have been,
moves to up-and-coming apartments, home-
comings, promotions, and ideas never
thought before, as if time had been sloughed off

like the skin of a tiny green lizard, red
dewlap flapping like a flag, and all that
remains of you, as if stored in a chest of
open drawers that now appears before you

with no need to stress recollection, for
the chest is soon recognized and invites
you to wander through all its detritus
—the used and unused spools of colored threads,

rubber bands rolled in tidy balls, paper clips
…and old hunting knife…scraps of letters in
a language not used anymore, some not sent
or if received, best left unread, and a scent

of lavender and old clothe as if all
had been saved by an old woman, left
stranded in a new land, homesick for what
may never have been—and now this very search

—jewel in itself—the finding or never
finding becomes all one: a magic carpet
of vital clues as to where you are and
who you are…and the moment suspends you

as if swimming in a cradle of tides,
head down on the left stroke, lifted to breathe
on the right stroke, when an unforeseen wave
catches you hard in the face, yet you

survive for now, revive your breathing
and the chest of drawers and its contents
fades and your mind, though not fully awake,
digs deeply into itself, finds its bedrock

of illusions at this insult of morning,
discards the threads, the clips and rubber bands
—dust puffs of old joys and regrets.

Then silence.
And the waves breaking on another beach.

“Dear Vince,
I had trouble reading your poem because the images in my mind got so loud and strong they thundered over your rhythmic words.
I have been digging through and sorting out stored material minutiae, the residue of my husband’s thirty-seven year first marriage which were crammed into storage while the loss of his wife was too painful to face.
In this poem, you have captured the sweetness, the confusion, the grief, the love, the very difficult dawning realization of the illusiveness of permanence…”

Meanwhile folks, if this poem touches you as much as it touched me, you may also be interested in Vincent’s book of poetry,  Dialogue, available through Amazon: