I know that many of you have done what I did a few weeks ago. I also know that many of you will one day do what I did. I began cleaning out the family home in Grove Hill. My mother and father were accumulators. Daddy’s accumulating ended when he died in December
2010. Mama’s continued. Then Mama died in January. Daddy was 93 when he took up a 50-yard line seat in that great Jordan-Hare Stadium in the sky.
Mama was 98 when she joined him. That gave them a lot of time to collect and hoard. And they did. Now there had been a cleaning out before. About a decade ago my ever-insightful wife noted that one
of Daddy’s storage sheds was full to overflowing, so we went to work getting rid of scores of mayonnaise jars he had gathered for God-knows-what, balls of twine, seed catalogs, half filled jars of insecticide long since banned by the EPA, assorted rusty tools and a bunch of 1⁄2 pint whiskey bottles which, when I asked, he told me were just the right size for taking into the cold-Autumn woods on a deer drive.
As we carted off “stuff” to the dump, I heard Daddy mourn “my treasures, my treasures.”
He never let us clean out again. Instead he gathered as much as he could into the house and told us, with unmasked glee, that we would have to deal with it after he was gone.
Only we didn’t. We kept it where it was because Mama wanted it that way. As the years passed she added to the collection.
What a collection it was.
Daddy’s mother loved stamps, and as her children traveled the world defeating our nation’s enemies and occupying their countries, they sent her letters – stamped. Daddy inherited that passion. I did not. So the stamps and envelopes and albums, with no value except to him, were crammed into a filing cabinet for me to sort through.
Mama loved lists.
Lists helped her keep up with things, and I am convinced that listing made her mentally alert right up to the end. I suppose teaching and writing do not qualify me for clear recollection, for as my wife and children frequently say in answer to my questions, “I told you that yesterday.”
Mama remembered yesterday. It was on a list. She left those lists to me. Like her mother before her, Mama also kept a diary – which was mostly a daily account of what they
ate, the weather, and who visited. Thrown in were bits of local gossip, and an occasional reference to family doings, good and not-so. I’ve found no blackmailable offenses – yet.
She also kept up with birthdays, a task that “charities” made easier by sending her calendars to make her think she “owed” them. Knowing her, she probably sent them something, for I am still getting reminders from groups I never heard of that it is time to pay up again.
So I found calendars, each with the same notations – Bumpy’s birthday, Zola’s birthday, etc. – scattered about the house, handy reminders when the day arrived.
I found things I could not explain – two Japanese Pesos, currency Japan printed for use in the occupied Philippines. Who gave them those?
A miniature photo of a young man in what appears to be a Confederate uniform. He is holding a wicked looking knife, but seems to me more anxious than aggressive. Who was he?
Mama’s senior high picture. Why had I never seen it before? Cute as a button, she was. I know why Daddy cut her out of the herd. Not that I was surprised. She was Miss Grove Hill of 1934. I know. I found the sash she wore.
There is the letter Mama wrote to Daddy just after she learned that the attack on Pearl Harbor had changed everything.
And tax returns. The accountant told me to keep 7 years, so into the big black trash bags went a decade or more of cancelled checks, receipts and “thank you for your donation” notes, records of two lives well lived.
Among the things they kept was my grandmother’s 1953 application to begin collecting Social Security. She got the grand sum of $26 a month, though with chickens and a garden in the back yard, a citizen of Grove Hill could get along fine on that.
The books my folks accumulated for no purpose other than they enjoyed them were donated to the public library of a small town nearby.
I also found a list directing me to give such-and-such to so-and-so, which I have dutifully done. And I paid off her pledge to her church.
Precious memories and surprises. With more to come. There is still the attic. And the Poutin’ House.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.