A Father’s Journal: Cashing in memories with help from dogs playing poker
When I was young, my father and I cleaned out the house of someone from our church who had died. We took bags, couches and mattresses to the dump in our truck. “Over half of all you own ends up at the dump” my dad pointed out to me, as we lifted a worn-out sofa into the back of the truck.
My dad was a big time recycler, so I don’t think he was advocating filling more landfills. I’m not really sure what exactly he was saying, because I was a stupid, surly teenager forced to work early on a Saturday so we could make three trips before the dump closed. I had no follow-up question about the materialism of modern society, etc., because I didn’t care. I think I might have said, “Uh.” I’m sure I said something monosyllabic. That’s what I did.
Since then the thought has continuously bounced around in my brain. Whenever my family now wants to buy something I give them that line as a way of justifying not buying any more crap. My family just calls me cheap.
My mother passed away late last year, and two weeks ago was the first time all of the siblings could all get together and pick out any of my mother’s possessions that we wanted. It was very hard to do. Spread around my sister’s two-car garage were many items of my childhood. A few of the siblings had done the heavy work, literally heavy lifting, giving furniture away and taking things to the dump.
My father had passed away 10 years earlier. I realized after looking over all the trinkets that my siblings and I were now middle-aged orphans. I refrained from singing any songs from the musical “Annie.” It was sobering seeing your life lined up on folding tables in the garage. For a second I wanted all of it. I wanted to grab it all and smush it together in an attempt to get my mom back. Once these things from her house were dispersed among the children and grandchildren, taken to California, Oregon, Virginia or with me to Connecticut, her things would be permanently split up. They would never be back together like a painting collection.
Neither I, nor anyone had the space or the desire to devote a museum to my parents. So I looked through their stuff. The Alaska stuff, the folk art crosses they bought in Central America. They had some artwork, but some of what they did have was broken by rambunctious boys 40 years ago. My mother always told us not to play basketball or baseball in the house. We broke her soapstone hunter sculpture, and then tried to glue it back together so no one would notice. Everyone noticed. And now he sat on the table with his broken arm, staring at me. I couldn’t pick him up.
My aunt Rita died without children about 25 years ago. Some of what was at my mom’s was Aunt Rita’s. Much of it sat in my mom’s house without being used. My mom could not part with sister’s things. I remember from my aunt’s house a plate in particular. It was a plate with a giant silver frame wrapped around it. I really didn’t have the room in my luggage but I didn’t want it at Goodwill either, where people would paw at it and put it back down, wondering if this plate thing is worth the four bucks that the price tags says. Maybe they think, “I could use the frame for something else.” I want to jump in front of this imaginary shopper and tell them about my aunt, tell them that my mom then put it on her wall 25 years and now I don’t have the room on my wall, and it doesn’t match our décor. I won’t have to accost them. My sister Ann eventually took it.
I already had what I wanted from my aunt’s house. When she died, I got a cheap reproduction of dogs playing poker that she had in her bathroom. Family legend was that my Uncle Bill won it in a bar bet, and took it off the wall of the bar more than 65 years ago. Maybe he just took it off the bar in a drunken fit. It doesn’t really matter anymore, since anyone who was involved in the incident has long since had their belongings scattered onto the four winds.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.