It has been more than a month now that the moving van pulled into our driveway, swiftly unloading the things of life from the condo in Florida that we had owned and enjoyed for almost 20 years, then sold.
When I wrote about that move in a previous column, never did I imagine that we would still be stumbling over and navigating around those things in every downstairs room of our Cape Ann home. It has remained cluttered with furniture, dishes, pots and pans, and various other remnants of those years that passed so quickly.
My husband and I reminisced at first as we handled things, then became irritated with tripping over them as we navigated the tight paths through the three rooms that held most of it.
In the weeks following, he began to gather up the “too much stuff” that was already there and we began the “push and pull” rhythm so familiar in our relationship: sensible vs. sentimental. It always works out in the end, and it continued (and is still ongoing) in this venture.
It is no surprise that as we worked at the task, it was evident that all the “stuff” that was already here fought for space with all the stuff from the Florida invasion.
This conundrum coincided with our ongoing friction of words that I stubbornly resist, like downsize, weed out, give away, get rid of, clear away, etc. Since we now live mainly in the downstairs of our big old house, my “collections,” he reasoned, were crowding us out. But I needed them. I wanted them around me. They were my cushion of memories.
While my ill-timed return had spoiled the element of surprise, I should have guessed he had a plan and it was remarkably humane. He had wanted to complete “stage one” so that I could understand. The key was rotation.
He was boxing up the egg collection and marking it as such; same with pewter bowls and hurricane lamps. And many of the paintings and prints hung in new places.
All around the downstairs of our Gloucester house, there were things that I remembered from the Florida condo. With the familiar Gloucester things newly positioned and the Florida things intermingled, the whole place looked fresh and oddly interesting.
This remarkable surprise (even better when he’d finished) created a cushion for my other pet peeve: that our adult kids weren’t shy about saying that “they didn’t want this” or that I loved, but had too much of, when combining the inner workings of two homes. All three seemed to have grown into middle-aged adults who just do not want to be bogged down by “too much stuff.” Imagine that!
I have saved every ribbon for completing the back float at swimming lessons, school papers for penmanship in cursive, almost every book they struggled to write their names in, some of their clothes (like Club Scout shirts with “badges” earned).
Perhaps I should have simply recorded these things in my journal, tossing away those papers, books, drawings, prom dress. I guess that’s a reason we have photographs. But even those have been replaced by “images” on people’s laptops. At the risk of sounding like “an old gal,” I don’t trust those things. I want to hold such gems in my hands, store them in a box or photo album, where, if I can find them, I can pull them out once in a while, judging which grandchildren and great-grandchildren look like my own babies.
We have volumes of photos, page after page of our kids arriving home from the hospital, their first steps taken, first day of school, donning Halloween costumes, on and on. I always wondered how we could divide those pages and volumes of photographs when most of them have two, and then three, of them captured in one picture.
It was pointed out to me recently, though, that all of those photos could be reproduced, that all three of our kids could have all of the pictures on a laptop or even bound into two other books if they preferred.
“What a world!” I mused, as must have my own grandmothers who had the occasional photo of a child or grandchild reproduced at the drug store, framed and “set upon the mantle.”
Gloucester resident Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.