I’m in LA at the moment, visiting my 89 year old mother and one of my many chores on this trip is to start sorting through and cleaning the storage closet in the carport. This is the house I spent my teenage years in (not a great time in my life). My father died four years ago and I’ve already been through all of his stuff in the house, which was an emotional roller coaster. This storage closet is the last place that was all his and where clear evidence of him remains.
I wasn’t looking forward to this chore because it’s damp, dirty, and the space was neglected during the last few years of my father’s life. He used it, but not with the attention to detail and orderliness he’d shown during most of his life. There were dozens of projects he’d started and forgotten about, which was evidence of his failing health and focus. He got old and just couldn’t keep up with keeping things in their place and the dampness overtook everything: the cardboard boxes, the tools, the stored lumber, everything was moldy, rusty, and soggy.
My dad, being a depression kid, saved everything and many of the things he’d saved for the thirty five years he’d lived here were all crammed into this small closet-like space. As I sorted through stuff, much of it hanging from nails in exposed studs, I found some rusty dog leashes and a very decomposed dog collar. My first reaction was that he’d found this stuff on the side of the road and saved it (like so many other things) but when I read the name tag on the collar it was “Frisky.” I didn’t think I was going to find evidence like this but now her memory was right in my face, along with his.
Frisky was my first and only dog and she’s been gone for over 30 years so the memory of her was only part of what welled up when I saw her collar and tags. Commonly the kid gets the dog and the parents end up dealing with it and that was certainly the case here, except, it wasn’t both of my parents, it was my father. I took care of the dog while I was in high school but eventually I went away to college and during that time my father and the dog went on, aged together. The dog got old and eventually had to be put to sleep and it was my father who did it, sparing me the agony. So, the fact that he had saved her collar and hung it in this space… that was what welled up in me: my father hung that collar there over 30 years ago, probably right after he returned from the vet, crying, and there it has hung, a reminder to him of the dog he loved and an earlier time. It’s telescopic: my memory of him includes his memory of the dog and his love for the dog. It doubled my emotional reaction. I kept cleaning to keep the emotions at bay.
These artifacts and the stories that come with them are part of a personal scrapbook. The storage closet is part of my dad’s scrapbook and my experience touching, sorting, cleaning, and yes, throwing stuff out is part of mine. I’m not sure if going through this stuff gives life any more meaning but I do think it’s important and I’m glad I did it.
I had only started cleaning the space when this happened and I didn’t get as far into it as I wanted. The rest of it will have to wait until the next visit and I’m now a bit hesitant to dig deeper, not quite knowing what I’ll find.