Discover Vintage America - APRIL 2017
Disposing of a lifetime of memories
My brothers and I have embarked on the bittersweet chore of dismantling our parents home of the last 42 years and disposing of their possessions. It's something that every adult child eventually faces and learns that it can be an emotional roller coaster.
Dad's been gone for nearly seven years and Mom is now being cared for in an assisted living facility after breaking her hip in January. Their lovely home is in the process of being sold and we have a deadline to get everything out after working very hard to "de-clutter" and "stage" the house for sale.
Still, they had a lot of stuff. What to do with it all?
Of course, my brothers and I cherry-picked the best of it. I'll take the Windsor chairs from their original dining room set, the revolving bookcase that holds a surprising number of volumes and it will still hold The Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which Dad had collected along with hundreds of other Civil War histories and biographies. We donated the rest of the books to the Louisville Civil War Round Table, whose members accepted them gladly. Treasured family artifacts will eventually get to my nephews by way of my brother.
We brought in an estate sale appraiser whose main interest was in the actual antiques that my family will claim. She wasn't much impressed with all the other mass-produced furniture and possessions that managed to accumulate over 60 years of marriage. Oh well, it's just "stuff." No tears will be shed over the furniture.
On the other hand, as we were dismantling the bed in the master suite I discovered a cardboard box beneath it, full of hand-written letters. There were dozens of letters that my father wrote to my mother prior to their marriage – love letters. I read portions of a few of them. Wow, Dad really knew how to turn a phrase. Good job. Landed her! Because the chemistry expressed in those letters eventually resulted in me, I shall keep them safe for a few years or decades. I don't know who will value them after I am gone though. Eventually, they too will be just "stuff" to someone else.
Our shifting attitude about the value of objects is of prime interest in the antiques and vintage trade today. The things that I chose to keep have a great sentimental value, which probably will not translate to the commercial market when that time comes. No matter. It's the fact that around these objects a family was created, grew, matured, scattered and reunited on appropriate high holidays and dozens of Kentucky Derby weekends. It was home – a place to return to.
Now it is just a house. We hold the memories we generated there – the good and bad times – in our hearts forever. Another family will move in soon and if all goes well, it will become a home for them too. Let the cycle continue.
Leigh Elmore can be contacted at email@example.com.
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