By Sean A. Donahue © 2007
I spent this weekend with my parents in Hurst helping them move my grandmother into their new smaller house. With all of us kids gone, there was no reason for the five-bedroom monstrosity in Bedford. It is time for them to think of retirement and to think of time better spent than cleaning the monstrosity. But with my grandmother moving down from her own house in New York I felt a loss. A loss that I wanted to share with no one until today.
My grandmother is a very intelligent woman. She was strong, and proud. But her body is failing her now. She no longer has the movement of a gazelle. She is 86 and the proud woman that I admire so much has to have help doing even the mundane things to us like use the restroom, shower and dress. But her mind, oh yes her mind is still sharp as a tack. She remembers all the little things that none of us can remember. I can remember when I was six or seven and she would take me to her classes to be used as an example of some child psychology or something. All I can remember is that there was nothing better in the world when you are a seven-year old boy than to have cute coeds smiling at you and moving their skirts to show you a little leg. How I remember those days.
However this weekend I spent with her taking over 50 years worth of "stuff" and compacting it. Shredding everything from letters to Con-Edison that my grandfather had written about the lousy meter reader to pay stubs from my grandmother's job was how I spent most of Saturday.
I told my sister Kiri how amazing it was that grandma had such a ton of stuff. Grandma kept blaming her deceased husband for not taking care of this stuff before he left. I guess he never planned to leave you grandma. I guess he planned to outlive you, but he didn't. There was no malice in him leaving. There was just love.
I read the love letters that my grandfather sent to his wife. I could see the tears in my grandmother's eyes as she read them, touched them for one last link to him. I shed many a tear today, ones that no one saw, because I left the room before they fell. I blamed allergies but I truly know what it was. It was the realization that my grandmother was on her last legs. She is my last link to New York, and my last link to my mom's side of the family. I will miss her when she is gone.
So there we were, grandma and I, shredding bills and making sure we didn't throw away things that had memories for her. They all had memories for me. I don't know how she did it, "Toss, Shred, Toss, Toss, Shred!" she cried. "Sean, it's just stuff," she told me. But it's your stuff. Stuff that some of it should have never made the twenty-eight hour trip down to my parent's house. But the boxes upon boxes were opened, kept, shuffled to the attic or divvied between members of the family.
I came home with articles from my grandfather, calendars from 1958 and 1959, stamps from everywhere, silver dollars, seven Susan B. Anthony's, one of my grandfather's flight bags and a lost heart. I lost it as we sorted through things and through them away. I looked, as there was a part of my grandmother that had died that day. I felt a sadness that I could never explain to anyone.
We created enough confetti to make a New York ticker-tape parade. We have bags and bags and bags of stuff that some of us will never need or use sitting out to be thrown away. It may not be valuable to anyone. But it was my grandparents.
Today, I gained stuff, but I lost a link to the past. Yes, I have my grandfather's watch to keep an eye on and yes, I have stuff to give to my kids.
But am just a gatekeeper, as their stuff will pass on from me to another.
Because in my eyes, the stuff is still not mine. It will never be mine.
Sean A. Donahue is a freelance writer, radio personality and poker player. He is the author of Instant Tragedy which looks at his life and those who he has touched and been touched by. He is divorced with two children and lives in Lubbock, Texas.