end of an era

Sister Tracey and I made a trip down to Tucson, Arizona to pick up what was left in the house Mom and Dad lived in for many years. The house was sold in July and fortunately, the buyer agreed to hang onto what was left until we could get down there. Turned out to be November. Turned out there was a half a bedrooms worth of stuff. Way more than we thought as we had moved a lot of the household stuff when we moved Mom and Dad north to Montana. And in 4 years, we kept bringing stuff up.


At the end of 2015, we made the very difficult decision to move the folks because Dad's Alzheimer's was causing other medical issues and Mom was stubbornly holding onto their Tucson grip. Dad needed more assistance and after a series of mini strokes, a stay in the hospital and rehab center, and brother Bruce taking months off his job to care for him, we made the decision to move them. None of us lived anywhere close to Tucson and for years we took turns racing down to deal with one crisis or another. Mom developed deep vein thrombosis in both legs and went through surgery for each leg. I got to be the one to drop everything and care for them.


This kind of oversight taxed all of us. It was one of the major reasons I retired at 55. I couldn't quite balance work life and running down south, not to mention regular life and it all took a toll on me mentally and emotionally. Toll is the perfect word. Fighting with Mom over Dad's condition and care was frustrating and exhausting. None of us could reason with her until the strokes happened. Who knew strokes could be a good thing?


Fast forward to now. The Tucson house sat mostly vacant for almost 5 years. After Dad passed in 2016, we made half-hearted visits there, taking Mom down and letting her be in her favorite place remembering how it once was. She knew she couldn't live there alone but she sure wanted to. None of us were going to move down there so she could. She couldn't be trusted to keep the help she would have needed in order to stay. We tried to whittle down what was still left in the house, but she would watch everything we touched to make sure we didn't throw or give away anything precious to her, which was pretty much everything.


I'll never forget her arguing with sister Wendy about a plastic lid for Margarita salt. Wendy threw it away, Mom dug it out of the garbage, and then she and Wendy had a lengthy discussion on the merits of keeping it. There were none. Still, it was a battle. I've watched enough of the TV show 'Hoarders' to recognize the mindset of people's emotional attachment to inanimate objects. I think we all have the tendency to do that to different degrees. But we usually get over it and let go. People like our mother grieve. It's hard to relate much less understand enough to give in.


Anytime Mom got the chance to go to Tucson, she would wander around looking for random stuff to see if we secretly got rid of it. Case in point, the fondue pot. We have had this brass fondue pot since the 1960s and we had many family dinners dipping veggies and meat into really hot oil in it. But it hadn't been used in decades and it sat in the China hutch for years. During one visit she focused on it and when she couldn't find it, demanded to know who took it. None of us had but she didn't believe us, and she accused brother Bruce. He lives in Thailand and why he would take that of all things is beyond understanding. For months she stewed about it. The next time we went down, I checked the China hutch and there it was. Mystery solved. Did it slow her down from looking for other things we might have gotten rid of? Nope.


At 91, Mom finally decided to sell the house. Physically, she just wasn't able to keep going down there. It was a breakthrough moment and before she could change her mind, our friend and realtor, Mary, had it sold. Mary boxed or wrapped up everything that was left, and the very nice buyer kept it in her new house until we could get there. When we walked into the bedroom where it was stored, my jaw dropped. How could there be so much left? What is in these boxes?


We rented a U-Haul truck, a 10-footer. And filled it up. Then, we headed north and after 2 days of driving, I dropped sister Tracey and her stuff off at her place in Utah. I took the rest and continued to Montana. When I pulled into the driveway, I backed the truck up to the garage, went in the house, and after greeting all my furry family, collapsed. With the help of a couple strong and super sweet young men, the truck was unloaded in 5 minutes. The next day, I turned the truck in and felt an unbelievable sense of accomplishment.


Fast forward a month or so and I'm still sorting through boxes of.... stuff. I initially gave myself a week to get it all dealt with. I did not factor the time it has taken to get rid of everything I've unpacked. Trips to various thrift shops, the Humane Society, God's Love men's shelter, and let's not forget the dump. Silly me.


Now that I've had time to process it all, I am feeling the emotional impact of it. It's a bit ouchy. Tucson was the last place our parents were together and happy. They had their house, their routines, each other. We had our family times, all together in one place even though it was never our home. It was theirs and they made it ours just because it's what they always did, no matter where they were. When Mom passes, we will take most of their ashes back to Tucson and place them in the Arizona military cemetery. The rest of the ashes go into the Grand Canyon per their request. We will honor them as best we can and it will truly be, at least for our family, the end of an era.


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