A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 5 February 2009

In My Father's House

I've been away at my father's house. I've been trying to sort out his things. It's been distressing and time consuming. I had to cut off, be dispassionate. If I built up the courage to throw something in the rubbish bin, I could almost hear his voice behind me scolding: "How could you? I've had that for 50 years!" But I'm getting better at it. It's good to sort things out, bring some order into the chaos that his house has been in for the last 10 years. He began to "lose the plot" when he started caring for my mother, who was showing the initial signs of Alzheimer's disease, about 10 years ago. I've discovered he's kept everything: old cheque book stubs, used envelopes, company reports, broken ornaments and figurines (which he'd no doubt intended to mend one day but never did), legal correspondence, cereal packets, worn-out clothes. The larder was full of 1950s kitchen equipment that hadn't been used for decades, a lot of it chipped, cracked and dirty: huge saucepans for jam making, heavy kitchen scales with the old imperial weights, enormous platters for the Sunday joint, burnt and blackened baking trays, cake tins and Yorkshire Pudding tins (for making real Yorkshire Puddings - the ones 6 inches wide we used to eat with gravy as a prelude to the main Sunday roast). Amongst his haphazardly organized books, letters, papers and bank statements I was delighted to come across my mother's old commonplace book which I hadn't seen for ages and thought was lost for ever. Over the next few days I'll continue with some observations about and quotations from this meticulously typed binder of nostalgic memories. In the meantime I leave you with this - which I find specially apt, as I myself quoted The Beatitudes recently:

Some Modern Beatitudes

Blessed are those who can doubt - for they shall know.

Blessed are those who can dream - for they shall see.

Blessed are those who can give - for they shall receive.

Blessed are those who know how to read between the lines - for they shall understand.

Blessed are those who know how to run risks - for they shall be secure.

Blessed are those who do not do what is reasonable, decent and convenient - for they shall be followers of Christ.

Blessed are those who know how to listen - for they shall be listened to.

Blessed are those who do not give way to fear - for nothing will happen to them.

Blessed are those who read foreign nespapers - for they shall know what is happening.

Blessed are those who know how to lose a little time - for they shall have all the time in the world.

Blessed are those who want to be useful - for they are.

Blessed are those who get to know the neighbours on their staircase - for they shall be called human beings.

Taken from my mother's commonplace book.

Source unknown.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Love those modern beatitudes Robert. Yes - clearing out the house and coming across all manner of things which hold memories is hard, but it has to be done and when it is done there will be a sense of catharsis, I promise you.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I understand most deeply how you have to 'cut off' and be dispassionate ...

The line 'Blessed are those who know how to run risks - for they shall be secure,' reminds me of a phrase I read by Helen Keller. I do not have the quote at hand but it was talking about not chasing after security ... 'Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.' I learnt that the more I scrabbled for security the less I had inside - and vice versa.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I know and understand all too well what you're going through, Solitary. When my mother passed away, it was only me and my memories to go through the house, cleaning out, uncovering, discarding, saving. She was 94 when she died, and a lifetime "saver" of stuff. I had to work in small doses, a few hours at a shot. And sometimes I'd find something which simply broke my heart, or filled me with such sadness and longing for family that I had to sit and wipe a flow of tears.

It does have to be done, of course. Just as so many other matters must be done following a death. Which doesn't make any of it a whit easier.

Blessed are those who feel pain—for they shall find comfort.

Blessed are those who face sadness—for they shall discover joy.

Blessed are those who know life—for they shall understand love.

Bella said...

It's the play of memory and imagination during grief that adds itself - suddenly all the useless bits of papers and things take on new meaning. And the guilt of throwing away something that is useless but has been kept for decades...keeping some things for now is okay, grief is a a journey too.

Timecheck said...

Very hard. I don't know if I'd call it catharsis - more like a sense of those times are gone forever. I particularly remember tossing box after box of negatives from a lifetime of picture taking. Saved the prints - my sister has those many boxes now stored somewhere, hopefully for some other generation to muse through. There is a relief when it is finally over, and now, seven years later, I can look back fairly well healed. I say that as I just finish up from two days of searching through all the legal documents from my mother's death eleven years back, and my father's old records to find evidence of some small property transaction that for some reason never got recorded by the county, and that discrepancy has now cropped up, years later.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful find while going through your mother and father's house. Your mother's commonplace book!

"Blessed are those who do not do what is reasonable, decent and convenient - for they shall be followers of Christ."

My mother learned to make real Yorkshire Pudding from her mother. The recipe came down several more generations before from England. When I was a child, we were asked what we would like for our birthday dinner. My choice was always roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding. Thanks for the reminder.

I don't think of myself as a Christian but I may well be a follower of Christ.

The Solitary Walker said...

I just found every single one of these comments so beautiful and moving that I am quite humbled before them - and find great comfort in them. Thank you so much.