By Ingrid Sapona
In the last column, I mentioned we’re in the process of
downsizing my mother’s household. We’re basically clearing out the family home
to sell it. I’m not exaggerating when I say the task at hand seems much larger
than the house itself.
I’ve been going at it in spurts. I recently turned my
attention to the dreaded basement. Over 45 years ago, Dad built a large bedroom
and a living room in the basement that, combined, take up just under half of the
area. The rest has the usual household stuff: laundry facilities, a hot water
tank, a furnace, and storage shelves and storage nooks.
I started with the “low hanging fruit” – items more-or-less
plain sight in the bedroom/living room areas. I was surprised that I recognized
about 90% of the stuff. By that I mean that I had a least an idea where it came
from – whether it was from, say, a Greek relative, or that it related to some
craft project my mother might have done in a ladies group she belonged to for
There was one piece that just had me stumped. Honestly, it can
only be described as a piece of metal slag. It had no discernible shape – it
just looked like molten metal that had cooled into a 10-inch long blob. I think
if either of my sisters had come across it, they’d have tossed it without so
much as a thought. And yet, I had a strong recollection of having seen this thing
laying around for so long that I figured it must have significance, though what
that was, I couldn’t guess.
I took it to my mother to ask what it is. She said, “Oh –
that’s a piece of copper. If you turn it over, you can see how it’s kind of
green.” She was right; it had that green, tarnished copper patina. “But why was
this in the basement,” I asked. “It was from my father – he worked in a
copper mine, briefly,” she explained. Wow – I never knew that about my grandfather – he
died when my mother was very young. No wonder she kept it. I’m sure glad I
didn’t unceremoniously toss it. And I’m really glad I asked, given how little I
know about my mother’s parents.
Last time I was home, I was feeling brave so I started on
the catacombs – the area back by the furnace. I was dreading this because the
deep shelves are piled high with dusty boxes and things that haven’t seen the
light of day since I don’t know when. I started with the area that was best
The top few layers were pretty easy lifting – old boat
cushions and drop cloths and stuff like that. Then I got down to the underlying
layer of boxes. I rolled up my sleeves and pulled on the first one. It had a
few things that were easy to sort into the requisite group (“ask Mom”, donate,
garbage, or recycling).
What I wasn’t prepared for was how many of the boxes contained
– well – empty boxes. I had come across empty boxes elsewhere in the house, but
I didn’t think much of them – or I understood why we kept them. There was a
time, for example, when it was all the rage (at least in our family) to wrap only
the top half of a box, so that the recipient could open the gift without
ripping the beautiful wrapping paper. That way, the box could be used again.
Come on – tell the truth – you used to have a few boxes like that, didn’t you?
By the time I was done with that first set of shelves, I had
two big boxes filled with cardboard from empty boxes I had flattened. I had to
laugh as I realized that if this pattern keeps up, going through the rest of
the catacombs might not be as difficult as I fear. (Mind you, I gotta believe
that I won’t be so lucky…)
As I schlepped the soon-to-be recycled cardboard to the
garage, I had to smile when I remembered a funny -- if embarrassing – story
about some boxes I had kept. Once upon a time – a good 20 years ago – my
apartment was broken into. A couple of Toronto police officers came over to
record the incident. The thieves had gone through my dresser and closets.
I was surprised when one of the officers said he would try
to get fingerprints. He went into the bedroom and when he returned, he said he
was sorry, but he didn’t get any good prints. He then kind of smiled and asked
if I worked for a jewelry store. I said no, and asked why. He then – very
politely – said, “Ma’am, it’s just that I’ve never seen so many little boxes.”
After they left, I went into the bedroom and was surprised when I saw dozens of
small boxes strewn across the top of the dresser and in the partly opened
So, it turns out that going through stuff in our family home
is revealing in more ways than I imagined it would be. Not only am I learning
things about our family’s history, I’m coming to understand the roots of some
of my own quirky habits.