This past weekend family members converged on my grandmother's home in the country to pick blueberries for the last time and to help my grandmother begin to fully clear out her house. I admit, it was a bit of a shock to see the realtor's sign planted by the front gate. My 87 year-old grandmother had already moved out over the winter into an assisted living facility, and I'm happy because she's back in New Orleans instead of living alone, out in the country an hour-and-a-half away. But still, the realtor's sign seems so final.
My earliest memories of my grandparents are in their New Orleans home - in a city life. But I can still remember when they purchased the property in the country and they'd spend the weekends there in an RV while my grandfather slowly began to clear the land. Then there was a barn, a barn that my grandfather built by himself with a work shed down below. Then there was a functioning apartment above the barn, again, everything completed by my grandfather. And finally, years later, there was the house, which became the last home that my grandparents ever lived in together. The house in New Orleans stood empty, a relic from the first decades of their shared life.
In this house in the country my grandmother now looked weary, and my aunt equally so as they sorted through all of the details that my grandmother had left behind when she'd first moved out. Perhaps she'd left so many things because it was less frightening that way, less final, a way of holding out hope that she'd return. I looked at all of the boxes and baskets and items scattered around and I felt emotionally tired before we'd even begun. How do you go about dismantling a life?
I helped to cart away some possessions for the thrift store, and I found myself caught in the details. The things I wanted weren't valuable, they wouldn't be important to anyone else, but they triggered memories for me nonetheless. I took the old ice cream scoop, and a banged up ladle and the nut cracker that I can still so clearly see my grandfather using. I kept the mink stole that my grandmother seemed reluctant to part with, not because she would ever wear it again, but because it had been a gift from my grandfather. I will never wear it for ethical reasons, but I like that I will have it for her in case she needs to see it one more time. I took the embroidery hoops, the aluminum gelatin molds, the champagne coupes that were an anniversary gift, a bowl that so often contained my grandmother's memorable potato salad and the vegetable peeler I'd seen her use a thousand times.
How do you dismantle a life? It turns out that you do it piece by piece, taking out the tiny stitches that hold it all together. You let some of it travel far beyond the boundaries of your life, without asking where it's going, and you hold some of it close, as if it were life itself.