Housekeeping

It seems spindly now. So small, fragile.

After The Family Project packed into our blue Chevy II station wagon and headed to Maryland, it was likely purchased there.

Made of cherry wood, the dining room table’s accompanying chairs could seat eight with the leaf inserted. They’re the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever sat in.

But I wouldn’t part with it for all the world.

Closing in on 50 years, that dining room set is nearly as old as I am. It’s like a third sibling—a hard, brittle little baby sis or bro, never at ease, always waiting to be told how to look, or where to go next.

Recently I had to clear junk off it, wipe it down and retouch the wood, marked in places from its travel from the folks’ Florida home.

The arc of its history: as a newly acquired piece of furniture in a spacious and spare Maryland dining room, then transported via Mayflower Van Lines to a lakeview dining room in Minnesota, then moved to a Minnetrista farmhouse, and finally, after The Family Project scattered, gathering dust in a South Florida dining room, while its owners mostly dined at a cheap kitchen four-top mere feet away.

Now it lives in my condo, catching the south light in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and looking like a strong wind could splinter it to pieces.

Not only am I inheritor of the dining table set, but a matching cupboard, dishes and silverware, and Dad’s office credenza, which at one time was actually a pie safe. They are like human bodies, with the heft and physicality of the body, and a shape that makes them instantly recognizable.

That dining room set has seen holidays come and go; long-passed grandparents sat in those chairs; birthdays were celebrated at it; family discussions, resentments and arguments centered around it.

But I recall it never being as cluttered as it just was. Even when it fell into disuse in Florida, it seemed as if it could receive a dinner party at any minute. The folks kept it that way.

That wasn’t the case in other corners of their house: the cluttered bathrooms and den, closets strewn with needlework, boxes of unworn clothes—all Mom’s shoes, Dad’s t-shirts and cargo shorts—and, in the end, boxes and plastic bags full of family photos, with only a few organized loosely in photo albums.

In the fall of 2008, just after Dad died, my ex-girlfriend and I had a conversation about how clutter drains the energy of a room and, by extension, the people who occupy said room.

I later wrote in the journal: “I’m not living as true to it as I should, and this whole thing with Mom and Dad reminds me of it.” It was a solid value of mine, I told her. “That physical things should be used and enjoyed, not accumulated and forgotten. Accumulation and forgetting, I said, is ‘an affront to God.’”

Well I know that inattention—with all its attendant anxiety—but I try to call myself on it. It wants to tell me something, like a terrifying ghost that begs to be acknowledged.

The fear is an unpleasant sensation, like a discordant noise or noxious stench—something to avoid. If I stay with it a while longer, it’s tinged with regret. Regret that, in 2007, I failed to throw my heart into my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. At the time I was afraid of Mom’s illness and worried about Dad.

In truth, I can’t recall what I did that December. That Thanksgiving was my last with Mom, and in December I learned that an old girlfriend’s husband had died at the age of 55. It was a heavy time.

When I recounted the Florida trip in the journal on Dec. 23, I wrote: “I helped Dad with the dishes and nearly lost my composure.”

Growing up, I never recall Dad being much of a hugger, but toward the end he held on to me as if his life depended upon it.

I can still feel his embrace: strong and solid.

I felt so small and frail and wished for some of his strength, as I still do.

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~ by completelyinthedark on June 4, 2012.

2 Responses to “Housekeeping”

  1. Great write Mike. How very touching. I think we all hold each other a little tighter the older we get. As my daughter told me yesterday, ” Mom, half your life is over and mine is just beginning………Ugh

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Busy with fixing up current living space for future move and this piece from 3 years ago came to mind. Back with all-new posts starting 6/12!

    Like

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