Tuesday 1st May 2018
When I first left home, September 1971, at the age of 19, I could fit all my possessions into my VW Bug. All my clothes, my records, record player—everything! After a year at Bowling Green State University, I needed to try my wings, and leaving the nest for the first time meant moving from Ohio to Florida. This was the beginning of A LOT of moves- back and forth across America, and more recently, three times across the Atlantic.
(The photo is of my black VW bug somewhere in the middle of South Dakota with my brother Darrell, who traveled with me when I moved from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. I've obviously moved on from being able to put all my belongings INSIDE my car. Halfway through Iowa we noticed we couldn't see the shadow of the bulge on top of the car. We pulled over to the side of the road and realized the luggage rack had slid down the back of my bug and was resting on the rear bumper (over the engine!!). Good thing we brought a wrench.)
My last move involved my husband and me packing up a household which was loaded into a 40' container. What were we thinking? We were moving back to England and into our 2 bedroom cottage. We immediately realized we'd only begun to downsize back in the USA! After countless trips to a local charity shop, which was happy to receive our excess, we thought we were done scaling down. And then my father-in-law recently passed away.
Very few of my in-law's possessions were wanted/needed/necessary to their children or grandchildren. I'd been through this before with my mother, and again it was painful for me to watch the things that defined my in-law's lives, things that meant something to them, being dissected and donated, or put out as rubbish. It was painful to me to be in their flat without them there. I felt like an intruder and tried not to 'see' them there; tried to think of their belongings as just 'stuff' and not the 'material' of their lives. My in-law's flat is now empty; it was as if they were never there. Life goes on and all that—and that is the way it has to be.
But helping to clear my father-in-law's flat has had the effect of spurring me into action and I'm in the process of distilling and digitizing all those bits and pieces that at one time meant something to me—photos, slides (oh yes, I have hundreds and hundreds of these!), show programs, tour itineraries, old maps, etc.,--but will mean absolutely nothing to the next generation. And once this is done, I plan to move on to clothing, linens, books...
In the middle of all this downsizing, I am mindful that it is the 'stuff' people keep that I actually find fascinating, that charges my writing battery. Several of my books have revolved on the theme of 'discovery' after the death of a loved one—a letter, a note, a photo, a fur coat, a journal (oops- that one hasn't been written yet!). 'Stuff' can trigger a memory or kick-start a mystery. And so another book has begun to unfold—once again with some 'stuff' leading the way!