Tomorrow I head north again, up to my writing retreat in New Hampshire. In June, the place was overrun with house painters, carpenters, and roofers. Not so this trip — just four weeks of solitude and freedom with my two felines.

Expect a change in tone here. At least that’s what I’m hoping for: a departure from the darkness, anger, and cycling grief.

It’s been a long and difficult July as I began the task of cleaning out my deceased brother’s house, which is also the house I grew up in. My personal upheaval has been exacerbated by the evil and violence going on in the world. (See recent rant at God.)

I knew cleaning out the house that we’ve owned since 1958 would be not be easy, so I hired someone to do the bulk of it. I thought it would be a relatively simple matter to pack up what I want and leave the rest for the folks who have no emotional involvement. I thought I’d get used to it, and it would become mindless sorting: keep, trash, give away, auction.

Not so much. Every box, cabinet, and drawer contains treasure beyond measure. So many memories, so much life lived!

Well, you can't just throw away Davy Crockett!

Well, you can’t just throw away Davy Crockett!

You don't expect me to toss my very first 45, do you??

You don’t expect me to toss my very first 45, do you??

 

 

Sadly, there have been enough wars in my lifetime to fill a whole box with protest paraphernalia.

Sadly, there have been enough wars in my lifetime to fill a whole box with protest paraphernalia.

Drama in the Basement

I started in the basement, going through boxes of old toys and books while seated on the grey-painted stairs that used to be my stage coach as I rode into dusty western towns and was greeted by that handsome cowboy who bore a striking resemblance to my brother.

“Howdy Miss,” Biff would say, his spurs clinking as he swaggered towards me and tipped his cowboy hat. “You must be Brenda Starr, that new reporter.” I’d giggle and gather my skirts around my ankles as he extended his leather-fringed arm to help me down off the stairs. “I’m Texas John Slaughter,” he’d say. I’d giggle again. That’s pretty much all I did. You have to remember, I was about five or six to his eleven or twelve.

After I had sifted through six boxes of my personal souvenirs — girl scout paraphernalia, notes from fifth-grade boyfriends, matchbooks from long-defunct bars, school band pictures and report cards — I  picked my way down narrow aisles of teetering boxes of books to the other side of the basement to look for my dad’s workbench that I thought I might want to keep.

Fifty-something years ago, that workbench served as my throne where I sat draped in moth-eaten blankets and played Queen Anne to my brother’s three musketeers. Throwing one blanket or another over his shoulders and switching swords, he would quickly morph from the dashing D’Artagnan discussing palace intrigue, to the humble Porthos begging a few coins to fund his exploits, to Aramis thrashing about with his fencing sword and repeatedly stabbing himself, which made me — giggle.

Survival Tactics

Behind the workbench on some rickety pine shelves, I found a few rusty cans of food (Spam, believe it or not, and corned beef hash) that my mother used to keep in the event of nuclear attack.

nuke fallout

Like many American families, we stockpiled food and water in the ridiculous belief that we could survive a nuclear attack. We used to say that if we had enough warning, maybe we could jump into the car and head north to the house in New Hampshire.

It may not have been a nuclear attack, but there’s still plenty of fall-out from Biff’s death, and I’m grateful to have a safe shelter up north where I can hide out for a month before tackling the rest of that house and its attendant memories. 

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