"I see strange pictures... and memories bring tears;
I live again the yesterdays and joys of other years."
- Grace Walker
One of the gifts I promised myself for Christmas this year was the time to clean my house. Funny gift, perhaps, but it had been years since I roamed the attic, dusted books or took inventory.
I was itching to get started.
I began a couple of weeks before Christmas when the first box of decorations emerged from its resting place. One day or closet at a time, I thought, would speed the process and reduce the assault on muscles unaccustomed to physical exertion.
I also thought it would take only a few of those days to put the trash in one pile, take reusables to Goodwill, and pack the rest of the stuff in boxes to go through again in about 10 years. But more than a month past Christmas and I'm not through yet.
It's amazing what you think you can't throw away: single sheets of mismatched stationery and the odd-sized envelopes they won't fit inside; inspirational clippings you once thought so wise; boxes of mayonnaise jars and coffee cans you think you'll need if you ever raise a garden or make thousands of holiday cookies again; years of National Geographic magazines and Reader's Digest Condensed Books you thought you'd have time to read; knick-knacks and household furnishings that looked wonderful in the old house, but have no place where you live now; every bit of schoolwork your children ever brought home; every picture ever taken; and old Christmas Seals you forgot to put on your cards and thought no one would notice the date if you used them the next year.
I'll need my son's truck to cart the stuff away.
I found other things, too: letters - the kind where people say wonderful things; I must have thrown the others away - and photos, misspelled notes from my kids and other keepers someone else will have to throw away for me. That's why the task is taking so long.
I had to read all those letters again, along with the magazine articles that meant so much to me the first time, inscriptions in my high school yearbook, my diaries, the speech I once wrote against pollution, and my first - awful first - published writings.
This project reminded me of putting things in storage when our family moved overseas. When we came back three years later it was like Christmas unpacking all those boxes and trying to merge what we bought "over there" with what we forgot we had left behind. In one box I remember discovering a number painting that had taken a whole winter to fill in all those tiny sections, and laughing because it hardly matched the real oil paintings we had purchased in Europe.
In some cases, my weeks of work was like the lost and found: the table legs that disappeared when I moved 20 years ago and turned up under a pile of obsolete, unreadable posters; not one but two Christmas tree stands that were replaced because more recent boxes covered them up; and my son's high school letter he still considers one of his prized possessions.
My aching muscles, broken nails and other duties tell me it's time to quit, although I feel more rested than if I'd been on vacation. Orderliness does that for me. Taking inventory is nice, too. I can see why businesses do it annually if not more often, and why I appreciated nearly 20 years of military orders to do that hard-to-motivate job for me.
My greatest discovery in this mother of all projects may be that I have more possessions that I thought I did. More memories, too - the good kind.
Or maybe I just threw the other ones away.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.