On being ... revealing

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 year.

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 lit.

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 drawers.

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.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


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