Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’m heading over the blue mountains home to Mom and Daddy’s place one last time.
In September I went home for a week and half to help my sisters get Mom and Daddy’s household stuff ready for a sale. We spent days going through drawers, closets, and cabinets. Sorting, packing, pitching. It was a sweet, sweet time of sharing memories and reminiscing. My oldest sister is over twenty years older than my youngest sister, so we grew up in different times and there are lots of different memories amongst us all. We learned things from each other we hadn’t known. We found all kinds of interesting things.
Some of our brothers stopped by from time to time and poked around through the stuff we were unearthing. We laughed together at their old sweaters and plaid pants and motley collection of ties. We looked through old yearbooks for faces we knew. We talked about the great big orange box kite my older brother and sister made from looking in the encyclopedia. We recalled how marvelously it flew despite a younger brother’s deep-seated doubts that it would.
We set up a table in the corner of the living room for stuff any of us especially liked or thought some of the brothers might want to see. We wanted to make sure special things didn’t get lost in all the hordes of boxes.
As the week wore on the table for cherished things got fuller and fuller. Special dishes. Daddy’s watches and pocket knives. His shaving brushes. The old tin Chinese checkers board us kids gathered around on long winter evenings. The big blue pottery bowl Mom used to mix up cookies. The elegant crystal sugar bowl we used every morning at breakfast for years and years until Mom discovered it was valuable and replaced it with a plastic pint freezer container. The lovely blue pitcher we used for milk until the handle cracked. The jelly dishes on stands from Granddaddy Shank that Mom used on Sunday when our friends came for countless Sunday dinners of mashed potatoes and roast beef or poor man’s steak. (I wish I knew how many pounds of hamburger got turned into that delicious meal through the years.) The crystal cake stand Daddy bought for Mom to use for the wedding dinners. The old black wire cutter that has been around as long as I can remember. The little square ash tray that evokes so many warm memories of cigar smoke rings drifting through the living room as Mom and Daddy sat reading after supper. (I’m hoping nobody else wants that as much as I do.) The white covered casserole dish that came from Daddy’s home and was used only when it was Mom’s turn to host the New Year’s dinner for Daddy’s siblings. The white-edged hobnail candy dishes. The wooden kaleidoscopes Mom’s brother made. The depression glassware. The red checked tablecloths Mom used on special occasions. (She loved red checked anything.) The little doll baby that has been around since early days. Grandmother Eberly’s elegant white soap dish. The little green glass Grandmother Shank brought Daddy from Baltimore when she rode the train there for cancer treatments before she died when he was six, leaving a family motherless and lonely. The little handblown blue glass pitcher Daddy bought Mom that she kept on top of the yellow pine pie safe my brother-in-law made from wood salvaged from the old barn where Mom and then us kids grew up. The silky fringed pillow case with the writing about “My little wife” that Daddy bought Mom on their wedding trip to Ohio that always hung on the closet door of their bedroom down on the farm. The big clear matching dishes used every day to serve up all kinds of food to hungry children. The King syrup tins that are warm reminders of the countless pancakes Mom fried because she decreed you couldn’t go to school without eating breakfast. (Someday I’m going to see if a pancake slathered with King syrup and topped with a hard-fried egg tastes as good as it did back then.) The white-handled knife we girls used to split the kernels of roasting ears piled high on cookie trays. Etc. Etc. Etc. So many memories gathered in one spot. It was fun to look at the table and see what got added as the days went by.
It was a huge job going through everything from the attic to the basement. We spent hours cleaning and boxing canning jars. Pints. Quarts. Half gallons. How well I remember the hundreds of jars that got filled every summer and carried down to the basement. It was an endless job. Ironically there were exactly thirteen jars of applesauce left lined neatly in rows. One for each of us kids, someone said.
I have no idea how Mom managed to do all the work she did through the years. I never ever remember hearing her or Daddy complain about the amount of work and energy it took to feed and clothe us all. In later years whenever I asked Mom how she did it, she invariably replied, “A day at a time.”
Mom wasn’t a writer per se, but she often jotted down her thoughts in various places. Sometimes on calendars or random pieces of paper. We found some really precious things she’d written as we sorted through her possessions. They all went into a special designated box for safekeeping.
We sisters took turns making dinner for each other. Each day we set the table with different sets of Mom’s plates. The blue willow we’d used every day for years until it met the same fate as the crystal sugar bowl. The pink flowered plates that replaced the blue willow. The elegant gold-edged china Daddy gave Mom when they got married, that was only used for company.
And the silver spoons. The seven silver spoons Mom had tucked in the drawer all through the years that none of us can remember the story of where they came from. I said us sisters should each take one and laughed that the odd one could be mine since I’m unmarried. And don’t you know, the first day we sat down randomly to eat, that very spoon was at my place. A sign I should have it, surely. Especially since it’s the one I like best. Except, when we were sorting through Mom’s real silverware that Daddy gave her for an engagement gift (when she really wanted a lapel watch) we happened onto another spoon exactly like the odd one. So now there are two odd spoons, eight spoons total. Which creates a little math problem for our seven sister spoon plan.
As the days went by, the stacks of boxes grew and the paths for walking narrowed.
Some of the nieces and nephews stopped by randomly to see it all. “I remember that coffee pot from family gatherings.” They marveled at Mom’s classy high-heeled wedding shoes with the suede swirls. They watched as we cleaned out the games and old wrapping paper from the storage space inside the big brown couch that could be opened out flat for sick kids to sleep on. Where some of us slept during Mom’s last days. We had that couch as long as I can remember and it’s as sturdy as ever. I wonder if anyone will want it on sale day. It’s good for another thirteen kids, at least, I’m pretty sure.
One day a brother stopped by with blizzards from Dairy Queen. Heath pieces added to banana split, a special flavor he’d told us about when we were keeping vigil for Mom. He brought them on his bike tucked into coolers. He brought a couple of his harmonicas too and got some of my sisters to play songs he remembered them playing years ago. The next day he stopped by on his way to town and brought us blizzards again. “It was too good a chance to pass up,” he grinned. Another brother brought ice bars on another day. It was a time of feasting for body and soul.
We had so many special times. It was all such a sweet delight. When I’d thought of going home to sort through Mom and Daddy’s stuff and get ready for the sale, I could hardly bear it. The reality of the end. The pain of the finality. It all seemed too soon and the grief too fresh. But I determined in my heart I wanted it to be a time of joy and gladness. I didn’t know how that would be, but I knew it could be. And it was. There was something so healing about it all as we worked and sorted. The remembering and sharing and laughing and crying. Through it all, something beautiful and powerful happened down deep inside. It was as if God Himself had designed this way of turning our sorrow into joy. Or perhaps marrying them in some sort of sweet mysterious union.
Adding to it all, was my youngest sister’s recent cancer diagnosis.Throughout the sorting time she went to various doctor appointments, learning about the stage and the treatment. Our hearts gathered close around hers at the kitchen table when she’d come back to Mom’s and report what she’d learned and compare notes with my other sister who’s walked the cancer journey twice.
Then another sister’s mother-in-law died, so we took a little break from sorting so she could grieve the loss of her other mother. We were all glad for a chance to catch up with our own hearts and all the emotions from the grief and joy of the many memories.
When the week and a half was over, I came back to Ohio to tend to my life here and wait for the sale date to be set. The first one was cancelled because my sister wanted to get started with her chemo as soon as possible. So we waited until she was ready.
Now sale week is here.
After my night work shift is over, I’m tending to a few things, then heading east. I hope to get there before dark. All seven of us sisters are planning to spend the night at Mom’s house tomorrow night just for fun amidst all the boxes and chaos. To remember together one last time. Thursday we’re going to finish up some last bits of sorting. My local brothers are coming to get the barn stuff ready to sell. My brother from Pennsylvania is planning to come in Friday afternoon. So all thirteen of us will be at Mom’s again. Like we were the Sunday afternoon before Mom died. And the evening after Mom’s funeral when we all gathered in her living room to read her will. To hear what she and Daddy wanted done with their earthly possessions.
Then Saturday, Lord willing, we will all gather together again in the cold of November at their white house by the side of the road. The children. The grandchildren. The great grandchildren. The great-great grandchildren. We’ll take all the bits and pieces of Home – the big, the little, the precious, the mundane – and offer them up to new owners. New families. New homes.
And the old Home will be no more.
Except in all the many places the bits and pieces go to be used and loved again. Love multiplied and made new.
And some glad day, in some mysterious way, all things will be made new. In our Real Home.
The best is yet to be.