As we’ve slowly emptied my dad’s house in Iowa of 60 years of memories, a small portion of his “stuff” has ended up in my lap. It’s an eclectic collection of his and my mom’s life together as they built a family and a business.
My mom died about 2½ years ago after a lengthy battle with cancer. My dad, lacking virtually any domestic skills and without her in his life, saw his health decline as well. My sister and I moved him from Hamburg, where he had lived since 1950, to a retirement complex not far from her family in Liberty about a year ago.
We agree that had we not “forced” his move, he would not have survived.
The task of exploring every box, and closet, and paper sack, and cupboard and plastic storage bin scattered throughout the two-story house has been arduous, at best. The burden of that task has fallen mainly on my sister’s family since they live about two hours from the Hamburg home.
Most of the dishes, furniture and white goods have been donated to a thrift shop in North Kansas City. Beyond that layer of his life, the keepsakes, knickknacks, collectibles and more personal items have either ended up in my sister’s garage or in my two-bedroom condo.
The grandchildren have snagged their share of memorabilia, most of which reflects their heritage or the special memories gleaned from the dozens of visits to their grandparents’ home over the years.
My parents long ago had the foresight to designate what they considered to be the more precious items (jewelry, family heirlooms, antiques, etc.) as a reference for us kids. Their intent was to eliminate the potential for family fights over material objects, and so far their intent has worked.
The house will be put on the market this spring after it is reduced to merely a shell of memories. My parents were fortunate to have a successful small business that not only put two children through college but also allowed them to travel to far away places. A lot of their possessions were mementoes from Hawaii, Spain, the Caribbean, Australia and New Guinea, and more.
Every few months, John (our dad) insists we take him back to his home. It’s nostalgic and sentimental for him each time as he sifts through the same boxes of pictures and keepsakes, each time telling the same stories attached to the items.
It’s hard to let go.
Among the possessions that landed at my feet are a handful of items from the newspaper days long before computers when linotype machines, flatbed presses and handset type combined to spread the word. I have hundreds of block letters in various point sizes made from lead, and a dozen or so California Job Cases with dozens of small compartments for the hand-set type.
Page 2 of 2 - The most recent challenge is cataloguing 15 porcelain egg coddlers and about the same number of collectible fruit and game plates that have been wrapped in newspapers and stored in plastic bins for months.
Part of my inheritance, my dad says.
Both sets of items collected dust and residue on plate rails in the Hamburg home for as many as 50 years. After a warm bath in liquid Dawn one night last week, they are scattered over my kitchen/dining room table and countertops. Each night I pick out two or three and research their history and value on the computer.
None appears to be of particular value as yet, ranging in eBay price from $6.50 to $45. They are not unique to the world, but only unique to the Field family.
From a sentimental perspective, the worth of these “inherited” items is priceless; from a practical perspective, they are nothing more than pieces of porcelain, or wood, or lead or newsprint.
And so it is for most of us as we usher our parents into their senior years and finally bid them adieu. If we outlive our parents, we’ll have the challenge of squeezing their lives into boxes and sacks and containers. If we go first, the burden will be not only on our children but on our parents as well.
So, to borrow a phrase, live long and prosper.