Dateline, Sunday 1/15: another sun-drenched SoCal day, the luminosity belying a certain surrounding darkness. Although there has been much circumspection and little to no (direct) talk of politics, it has become evident that some of my family are Agent Orange [1]  supporters.  How did I get born into this clan?

And yet I’m glad I did, as I have had enough delightful, witty, bawdy, touching conversations with those of my nieces and nephews and their spouses and partners who make me realize that the darkness has, with a few exceptions, hopefully skipped a generation. I find myself comforted by a cliché thought: The Younger Generation ® shall save the world.

My mother’s graveside funeral on Saturday (1/14) was…tolerable, given the religious nature of the ceremony. There were several blackbirds cavorting around a palm tree just in front of and to the left of the canopy under which the attendees sat; the birds’ aerial acrobatics provided a welcome distraction from the service’s Christian theology and clichés, [2] which I find inane and pathetic. How I wished for a service like many I had attended, consisting of simple and heartfelt sharing of remembrances by friends and family. At least, there was one break in the minister’s come-to-Jesus blather recitations: my younger sister gave a wonderful “life overview” of our mother, which was quite touching, and which had many of us reflecting on the value of hearing from/keeping in touch with someone  [3] who remembers you as a young adult.

 

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
( Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune columnist and author of the commonly-misattributed-to Kurt-Vonnegut “Wear SunScreen”-commencement-speech )

 

 

marionatolivest

Marion Alberta Hole, [4]  Santa Ana, CA, ca. mid-early 1950s

 

 

The after party, however, was an unqualified delight – a wonderful, noisy, mess of fun with family, neighbors and friends.  I was once again reminded of why my friend SCM loves funerals, and even prefers them over weddings: with both events you get to visit with acquaintances, friends and relatives you may have lost touch with or aren’t in close geographic or emotional proximity to…and while those holding grudges might not attend (or be banned from attending) a wedding, most folk seem to put things in perspective and set aside their differences to attend a funeral.

*   *   *

The funeral was both preceded and followed by days of my siblings and I, with invaluable help on several of those days from nieces and nephews and spouses  [5]  going through my parents’ house, sorting and arranging and keeping and discarding, [6] preparing the house for an estate sale which will be followed by putting the house up for sale.

For these tasks, we rented a VLD (Very Large Dumpster), and completely filled it…and this was after 30-plus other yard waste-sized trash bags of stuff were delivered to the Goodwill and other charitable donation centers (much of which will end up in their dumpsters, I’d bet). And STILL we left behind behind a house full of things for the estate sale.

Each of the four Parnell siblings took items of sentimental or practical value, and encouraged our spouses and offspring to do the same. There were items deemed schlep-worthy, like a photo of my older sister NLPM and moiself ( on the left) wearing the kimonos our father brought back for us from San Francisco, during one of his rare business trips.

 

 

 

nancyandiinkimonos

 

 

 

And then for each keeper there were approximately 1,003 items of complete and utter mystery, interesting and/or valuable to no one save for extraterrestrial anthropologists.

Many of the items, from the valuable (to us) to the inexplicable (to anyone with an IQ higher than their shoe size), had post-it notes pinned to them, with what were meant to be explanatory labels, written in my mother’s distinctive, military-precision script. We unfortunately misplaced the note belonging to my uncle Bill’s World War II paratrooper’s dress jacket, a true treasure which was already well-known to the family. I was happy to be able to bring it home with me, as my father deeply regretted not keeping his own paratrooper jacket.

 

 

 

billomalleyparatrooperjacket

 

 

 

And then there were the notes that ranged from the stupefying to the hilariously mortifying.

There was one note-pinned item I wanted to send to Whoopi Goldberg. Not that we’re BFFs or anything, it’s just that I remember reading a magazine article years ago about the award-winning actor/comedian/author/talk show host’s extensive collection of what she calls “Negrobilia” – i.e., objects made by white people which stereotypically depict and degrade black people.

 

negrobilia

 

 

The item to which I refer is the Aunt Jemima appliance cover my mother’s eldest sister, my aunt Erva, had made. I remember how appalled I was when (mid-1970’s) Erva showed me her handiwork and asked if I’d like her to make one for moiself. It was a two-gasp moment, the second gasp occurring when I realized she was serious. Since she was not deterred (she didn’t even blink) by my brief but passionate explanation as to why such an object was offensive, I segued into the excuse that as a poor college student, I didn’t actually own any appliances. My aunt assured me that the industrious Jemima could do double duty as a “toilet paper roll hider.”

My mother, to my chagrin and embarrassment, halfheartedly accepted her sister’s “gift” but, at my insistence, did not display it. I had completely forgotten about its existence until my niece found it, in a back bedroom closet filled with a random assortment of Christmas decorations and WWII memorabilia.

Jemima was discovered on Thursday, and had taken her place in our Dumpster? or Donate? or People-will-buy-anything-so-save-for-the-estate-sale-as-an-object-of-curiosity? pile in the back bedroom. On Friday MH and our son K had flown down for house-decluttering and funeral attending. While helping the Parnell sisters with the former task, K spotted Jemima and could not believe his good fortune. He snatched it up, exclaiming, “Really – nobody wants this?” He felt it would be the perfect home decor addition for his multi-ethnic household.

 

jemima

The Post-it note reads: “Appliance cover. Not politically correct (But a fact of history!) which of course makes me wonder what “fact” she was referring to – that Black women at one time dressed in full Gone With The Wind mammy regalia and willingly perched atop appliances, or that white people made those hideous “craft” objects?

 

 

Once again, I digress.

*   *   *

“You kids are going to have quite a job going through…all of this.”
(Prediction/warning given to my older sister by one of my mother’s caretakers, when my mother’s demise seemed imminent)

Really, it is impossible for moiself to adequately describe how sad/appalling/embarrassing it was to discover pile after pile of dust and spider egg sack covered shit precious mementos in yet another drawer and closet, under each and every bed and every piece of furniture and behind the under the furniture, all covered with layers of dust which merited carbon dating.

We knew our mother had turned into a hoarder in her later years (and discovered that our father was one as well, but mildly so, in comparison to his beloved wife). Still, the enormity of the task was daunting.  All the clothing,  baseball caps, fifty year old frayed and yellowed linens, clothing and accessories never worn, books, decorations, dishes, costume jewelry, coins, picture frames, souvenirs, dishes and kitchenware, photo albums, pre-purchased Christmas and birthday gifts for children and grandchildren (labeled but never sent), [7] cassette tapes, videotapes, 8 track tapes, travel-sized soaps & lotions and an entire room’s worth – as in, you could stack the items from floor to ceiling [8] – of Christmas “decor” (most of it of the kitschy/really cheap Lillian Vernon catalog variety…and the knickknacks, a word which from this time forward is likely to give me a panic attack – and ALL OF IT duplicates of crap they already had “out” on display or in use.

It was interesting to see how, one by one, the siblings, spouses, and grandchildren all began to manifest the fight-or flight reactions when reality of the mission ahead of them sunk in. And we all tried to provide each other with breaks and levity, as well as practicality and concern for each other’s health and safety.  [9]

And we kept joking about – then seriously posing to anyone nearby or muttering to ourselves –  variations on the question that had no rational answer: How is it that people who lived through The Great Depression ® and who subsequently cited the hardships endured and the resulting appreciation for simplicity and frugality which TGD privations imbued in them – how is it that such people ended up amassing all that stuff which could fill a landfill the size of Gambia?

It was at once distressing, frightening, mystifying, annoying, hilarious, and six other emotions I can’t quite describe.

 

 

buckley

Have you tried stupendiflying superflu-otic?

*   *   *

 

Just as frightening as having to deal with the house cleanup was having to keep reminding myself how much good stuff I received from my parents, including what was, for the most part, a loving and secure childhood.  I had to do this because I realized I was starting to resent them for leaving their children this horrendous mess to deal with.

Attention, all you hoarders: (okay, I’m probably pissing in the wind here because hoarders rarely see themselves as hoarders [10])  please, stop, right now, and do whatever it takes to reverse course. Do NOT do this to your children.

Attention, all you children of hoarders: have your parents diagnosed/treated, while you can. Failing that, hide their credit cards in the middle of stack 15 of 32 stacks of Trailer Life magazines.

 

 

hoard

We’ll want to read through these someday, I just know it.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Painful Reminders

Dateline: Tuesday, PDX airport, just having returned from SoCal. I waited at the baggage claim area while MH tried to summon an Uber ride. I chose a spot close to the baggage carousel, and saw that ten feet to my right was the frail, elderly woman in a wheelchair whom I’d seen boarding our flight during the initial those-who-need-special-assistance pre-boarding call. She was accompanied by a woman I judged to be her attendant, and she was distressed to the point of shedding frantic tears. Her shaking hands rummaged through her handbag, frenetically searching, as if she’d misplaced something. She began to sob and moan.

No no no – it was right here.”

The attendant remained calm – almost heartlessly and diffidently so…or so it seemed to me, even as I reminded myself that I did not know these people and should not judge the situation.  In the elderly woman’s distress I recognized the fear and confusion my own mother displayed when, sporadically at first and then increasingly during her last days…and months…and years, she was beset by bouts of dementia, fear and forgetfulness, and their companions, panic and paranoia.

But your mother is no longer afraid, or upset, I coached myself. She was able to remain and die at home, which is what she wanted.

I sidled over and spoke to the elderly woman’s attendant: I apologized for any intrusion and gently asked if I could be of some assistance – could I fetch a drink of water, or…something? The attendant smiled and politely refused my offer. In a broken English accent I took to be Russian, she said that the elderly woman was merely confused (“She think she lose something”). I smiled at both women and inched back toward my waiting spot as the baggage carousel began to roll out our luggage

The elderly woman, who had calmed down for a moment, resumed her sobbing and rummaged through her handbag.

“No, no, no, why? I had it right there, and now it’s gone. I wish I was dead…”

Her quavering cry of despair hit like a sucker punch to my innards. I remembered my mom expressing that sentiment in her moments of desperation and fear – my mother, who was right there and is now right gone, and all her “stuff” gone as well.

 

 

*   *   *

May you learn not to binge so as not to have to purge;
May you realize that even if you love your stuff it doesn’t love you back;
May you have patience with those who fear what they may have lost;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Yet another appellation for He Who Shall Not Be named in this space. You know – Putin Junior.

[2] “Marion had been in our prayers for years…” Well, if that don’t show the inefficacy of appealing to a nonexistent sky god, what else will?

[3] In this case, my sister read memories shared by one of my mother’s nieces, who was only ten or so years younger than my mother.

[4] No question about her wanting to keep her birthname. Hole may have been a fine, upperclass Norwegian surname, but in America…not so much.

[5] Read: we’d still be there, trapped under layers of old ultility bills and sixty year old packages of rotting tinsel had they not shown up to help.

[6] And discarding and discarding and scratching our heads and asking, “WTF did they keep that for?” an discarding some more and sneezing and sneezing and sneezing

[7] Some labels were specific (“_____ {grandchild’s name) birthday” or cringingly age and gender nonspecific and stereotypit (“for 12 yerd old boy)

[8] Although the items were distributed throughout the house and in the rafters and cabinets of the two car garage.

[9] My younger sister’s college age son, gazing at the boxes in the garage he was asked to get down, wisely decided that a trip to Home Depot to purchase protective eye goggles and dust masks was called for.

[10] Especially if they watch one of those Hoarders of La Habra reality shows, which allow them to delude reassure themselves that, “Well, I’m not as bad as that so I’m not really a hoarder.”