Thursday, June 7, 2012

Precious Things

We first knew something was wrong when we opened her top dresser drawer and found it full of newspaper bags.  All carefully folded into 1" squares and neatly stacked.

My Mother in Law was a hoarder before there was a reality TV show for it.  The Bearded One thought nothing of it for a long time because he had always lived that way - with a Mom who paid the bills and then put them aside for further action (in their original envelopes with check numbers and notes written on them).

When I first knew him and went to visit his family, the house was cluttered but as I knew that my Mom was not normal (in a cleaning sense) I didn't think anything of it either.  After all, a cousin trying to comfort me over the state of my apartment had said, "You know that you shouldn't feel bad - you lived with someone that it is impossible to live up to." And I eventually came to accept the fact that not everybody lived in a home that looked like you had a live in maid and ate every night like you had a cook on staff...My Mother:  The original "Wonder Woman"!

When we visited  my MIL after having a child we noticed that the "stuff" had multiplied.  Every surface was piled with papers.  There were stacks of things in corners.  There were stacks of things under chairs.  There was a path from the living room to the kitchen.  A path from the bedroom to the bathroom.
I joke a lot about hoarding with respect to my family's life and we DO keep a lot of "stuff" but my late mother-in-law was a full on worthy-of-intervention-hoarder.  She has been gone for a number of years now, and at the time she passed, we didn't have a clinical term for what she did to her surroundings and her belongings.  As The Bearded One cleaned up her effects he found:
  • An entire bedroom closet full of paper towel and toilet paper
  • 12 medium sized moving boxes of unworn clothing - still with tags and/or in original wrappers
  • Paper bags full of chipped dishes (formerly good china) and mismatched silverware
  • BOXES full of financial records - back to the 1950's
  • Boxes and old suitcases full of family photos ( the people in which could no longer be identified because there was no longer anyone alive to do so).
And, actually useful:
  • Envelopes FULL of old postage stamps that were put away unused when postage increased.  The oldest was an entire roll of 8 cent stamps featuring Dwight Eisenhower.  I won't be purchasing stamps for years!
We also found the touching and poignant:
  • Letters written to her by The Bearded One's Dad when they were courting and lived in different states
  • Congratulatory telegrams that they had received on their wedding day
  • the cake topper from their wedding cake, carefully wrapped in tissue
  • The Bearded One's first pair of shoes - bronzed
We found the hilarious:
  • Old high school and college transcripts that gave the lie to everything she had told The Bearded One about her own academic career
  • Professionally taken portraits of The Bearded One and his mother, each holding a cat - looking cross-eyed and/or goofy (the people, not the cats)
  • Lovingly wrapped coffee mugs, ashtrays, memory books, knick knacks, what nots, and dust catchers - all featuring owls in some form
We found the just plain tragic:
  • TRUNKS of sheet music dating back into the 1920's that had belonged to The Bearded One's Dad (a professional musician) - the majority of it disintegrating and moldy
  • Cases of recordings made by The Bearded One's Dad and his students
  • Hand written sheet music given to The Bearded One's Dad - with copyrights and publishing  information gleefully written in
  • Personally inscribed photos of the Dad's former students who had "made it big"
  • A folded flag - having been used in a burial at sea way back in WW I - the name of the deceased having been lost in time
So much stuff.  So much of it rendered useless by time and storage conditions.  The old grade reports have been recycled.  The cake topper has been preserved.  The sheet music has been sorted and the still usable saved.  We are looking for a turntable that will play the old recordings so that we can get them into digital format.

It is so sad when everything in your life becomes so "precious" that at the end there is nothing much of value left.


  1. Recordings, pictures, sheet music and papers in general can usually be saved (even when there is mold all over it) by a preservationist. They can also tell you how to do a lot of it yourself, usually on their websites. I hope you know that there are places that would die to have you donate those pictures even if you don't know who is in them. (Same with the other things you mentioned) My husband has a turntable that digitizes recordings, they not really hard to come by and they weren't too expensive when he bought his. I wish you good luck in preserving as much as you can. I have pictures of soldiers my grandfather fought next to in WWII and have been able to find people who knew who they were. You can always email me if you have any questions. :)

  2. Thanks, Lemon Stand. I will look into your suggestions. Much better to be able to save some of the things and to have them used and appreciated rather than just tossing them.