When I entered the sunny apartment, the first thing I saw was the old mahogany Imperial styled chest with all the family photographs in a mix match of silver and Dollar Tree acrylic frames. Homemade cards and pictures from her great-grandchildren were in a little pile. An antique clock silently ticked.
My eyes scanned her home and saw the dichotomy of beautiful silk draperies on the living room windows beside the tacky peacock feathers displayed in a vase she bought at a garage sale. The silk print of the last Dowager Empress of China above the handmade camelback chest from Afghanistan with the “made in China” (and not in the good way!) oriental lamp on it. The exquisite Victorian mahogany and horsehair sofa she had upholstered in the most God-awful light blue striped velvet we know she got for free somewhere. The corner cabinet with all her sterling and fine china serving pieces - and the Christmas china my sister and I had thought she gave us, but later she decided she hadn't and wanted back! (Anne Stuart and I are still confused over that...) Her mink wrap and elbow length white kid leather gloves next to her seventeen million pairs of Keds in every color and pattern imaginable. The sterling silver tea service and water cooler on the small dining room table – right beside a cacophony of holiday, cocktail and party napkins she would "rescue" (not used of course) from a luncheon or event where she was a guest so she could use when WE came to visit. It was so her and I was completely unprepared… and I sobbed.
This past weekend I joined my sister, aunt and uncle, and their daughter to clean out Muz’s apartment at Still Hopes. (You may remember my post about the lovely residence.) We started the weekend with shared tears as we talked about her last days and the numerous happy memories we had. We wanted the weekend to not just be about packing up all her belongings (and sorting “Good Will” and “throw away” – there were over fifty bags!). We wanted the day to be one that honored her and what she meant to us. My dear Aunt Laura, who, at times, had a tumultuous relationship as the daughter-in-law, asked if she could lead us in prayer that the weekend would be a blessing for us all. And oh, how it was!
We told stories as we’d find old books she read to us as little children and pictures of Christmases from years ago. We laughed as we’d find old newspapers - and programs from events she’d attended in 1983. Boxes and boxes and boxes of old church bulletins… invitations… Christmas cards from people whose names we didn’t even recognize… receipts from presents she’d bought us through the years… papers and old photographs from "the war" (better known to rest of us as World War II)... drawers full of recycled Christmas bows and wrapping paper… bags and bags of packing peanuts. But that was so Muz: frugal and a product of the Great Depression. How many pieces of recycled tin foil and Ziploc bags we found in her kitchen cabinets; the jelly packets and sugar packets and ketchup packets. The woman NEVER THREW ANYTHING AWAY. You’ve heard of functioning alcoholics? Muz was a functioning hoarder. You’d never know it from the way she kept her lovely apartment!
We finished, exhausted yet blessed, Sunday afternoon. In addition to the wonderful time reminiscing with my family, we each left with some items Muz had designated especially for each one of us. I was so excited to carry the silk print and camelback chest, as well as a mahogany pie crust side table.
But it was earlier that day when I was cleaning out her medicine cabinet and I hit the jackpot. Of all the furniture and other inheritances we all received, this meant so much more. I found two 45-year-old bottles of merthiolate she used to put on our cuts and scrapes when we were children. She would paint that orange liquid on one and blow on it “to take the sting off”. We would wince in pain and watch the “paint” turn that awful neon pink. What on earth was she thinking? But I was so thrilled to find these bottles. I ran out of the bathroom laughing and crying. It was a memory we all shared. It was so her... so Muz.
And crazy as it sounds, when I look at those two little brown worn out bottles, I feel the clouds that have covered our lives for the past few months dissipate. I feel golden days are coming soon…