Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Packrats Anonymous

I think I have always been a "packrat."

I consider it a side effect of my sincere, severe sentimentality. I hold on to things because of the memories they evoke and because so many times I've had those "I'm so glad I kept this" moments.

As a result, I've had some of my "stuff" scattered at various places around town. My old ten-speed bike and prom dresses were at my grandparents' house. My wedding gown and every newspaper story I wrote in the year I worked full-time for the Pekin Times were stowed away at my dad's house. My old dollhouse and speech trophies are still waiting for me to recover them from my dad's old house, where my former stepmom still lives.

But since losing my dad and my grandpa and having to pack up and clean out both of their homes, I think I might be turning over a new leaf. Fresh off of the two-week stint of emptying out and dividing up my dad's belongings, we rented a dumpster for our own house and have been steadily emptying and re-organizing our basement.

It is a project that has been five years in the making. The basement was literally the first place we started moving stuff to when our house was inhabitable, and much of what was down there really shouldn't have been, or shouldn't have been saved at all. But we didn't have time for proper weeding out when we moved so we just got it in and figured we'd do it later.

Later finally came. And not a moment too soon, because Edgar and I both were getting anxiety attacks any time we had to go in the basement for even the simplest of things. Not only were things not organized in what had become our dumping ground, but the chaos had been exacerbated by frequent floodings that had us scurrying to move stuff out of water and to dry ground, wherever that might be.

So we dug in and took our time and now we happily walk into the basement with a bounce in our step. Not only do I know where things are, I also now have a place to put things. Earlier today I noticed a stray winter decoration and a card table sitting in the guest room/office. No problem... I now know just where they can go in the basement! I was practically giddy as I put them away.

But even better than the organization we have created is the feeling of freedom from having let go of "stuff." We've thrown the broken and unsafe and unusable into the dumpster. We've created a section of basement dedicated to "garage sale" or "just plain donation" stuff. I even went through old boxes of mementos and got serious about what I really need to save. Maybe it's the image of my kids having to do what I have just done - twice in the past six months - but suddenly the corsages from high school dances in the ziploc bag seemed just well, silly. I threw away dozens of photographs - previously a big no-no in my mind, but they really are starting to overwhelm. Plus, I know there are duplicates (and sometimes triplicates) of them already sitting in boxes waiting to be organized "someday."

Don't get me wrong, I'm still sentimental. And it does sometimes pay off.

In a photo album, I found this - right where I knew it would be, although the album itself has been buried and somewhat MIA since we moved here.

(Ok, having trouble uploading a picture but keep reading and you'll get the idea!)

It is a letter written by my dad and given to me on my Confirmation Day in 1989.

It is three pages long, typed - and much of his prose is devoted to the subject of death and more specifically, life after death. Here is some of what he had to say:

"I KNOW that there is life after what we know as death. Life after death is a TRUTH. Consider this: What we come to know as TRUTHS in this life is largely a result of opposites... of converses. For instance: to really experience happiness, we must experience unhappiness. To know joy, we must know sadness.

And what of this thing we call death? Well, without LIFE, there could be no DEATH. That is a TRUTH. I am convinced that the converse is also a TRUTH... that without DEATH there can be no LIFE."

Anyone who heard my eulogy for my dad may remember I quoted C.S. Lewis from "The Shadowlands" about how the pain now is part of the joy then, that's "the deal." It was one of my dad's favorite movies and was actually introduced to him by me when I performed an excerpt of the play for Speech competitions in high school. Interestingly though, "Shadowlands" came to us years after he had written the letter.

I'm sure it goes without saying what this letter means to me. I have a few letters my dad wrote me over the years, but this one has the most depth. I almost felt him reaching across the divide that currently separates us as I read this letter again.

Reminding me, teaching me, comforting me... helping to heal me.

He wrote, "God has given you many blessings, not the least of which is an excellent mind. You have wit, you have musical talent and appreciation. You are a caring and loving and giving person. You show a genuine concern for those around you and you possess a conviction to be of help... to make a difference. I have watched you grow in your maturity of faith, through instruction. I have watched you grow in maturity of judgment through experience. And I have come to realize that one of the many blessings God has bestowed upon me is a daughter named Shannon."

He says at the beginning that the letter will be "heavy stuff." And it definitely is. But in case this is just too emotional, here's something else he wrote:

"In a certain sense, confirmation is a rite of passage into adulthood. There will be others. Your first REAL love of another human being as a helpmate, a partner, a spouse. Your first full sexual experience. Your first hangover. (I assume these all to be future experiences, but it doesn't matter.)


This letter is one of my treasures, and tonight it's being moved from the photo album to a safer location.

Sometimes it really pays to be a packrat.

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