I was at my Mom’s house today.
At 87, she still lives in the house where she and Dad raised me and my five siblings. The house is getting old, but my parents were always careful and attentive, so it’s still in very good shape.
But there are corners, little places, where the effects of time are more obvious.
We used to have a beautiful pool in the backyard, surrounded by a paving stone deck that my Dad built. There were little round tables and wrought iron chairs where we’d sit under colorful umbrellas to have a snack and rest from swimming. There were redwood recliners and little wooden planters that my Dad built himself.
And there was a wonderful “pool shed” in the back of the fenced area. In the summer, my parents would set up a long table for parties and barbecues. We’d line up, in our dripping suits, towels casually slung over shoulders. Everyone would grab a plate and fill it with beans, salad, grilled sausages, chicken, burgers and dogs. There’d be coolers and tubs of ice cold drinks, and my sister and her husband would have huge tubs of Italian ice for dessert.
In the fall, that pool shed would become storage for the pool toys, the water wings, the chairs and the fish shaped placemats. The pool would be covered, the pavers washed, and everything tucked away neatly until the following spring.
The pool has been gone for about ten years now. As my parents got older, and Dad had health problems, the upkeep became too much. And they no longer swam or sat in the sun.
So the pool was taken out, the land was filled. A beautiful perennial garden was planted, with flowers and dwarf trees creating a spot of serenity behind the house. There was still space for the tables and chairs, the umbrellas, the placemats.
And the pool shed remained, its wooden doors occasionally opened for barbecues. We didn’t drip as we stood in line any more, but we still gathered and laughed and ate. We are Italians; we had wine and we still had wonderful food.
But the years have gone by. Dad left us in 2008. The garden is a little overgrown, in spite of our best efforts, with the roses and the lilac fighting for space. The redwood chairs have broken down and are gone. The tables are getting rusty.
And the pool shed has become the home of squirrels, mice and probably a whole group of unknown invaders. It has slowly seen the life vests and pool noodles chewed up and piled into nests.
This spring we decided it was time to really clean it out, once and for all. Big, black, plastic trash bags were filled with chewed up placemats, old citronella candles, chair pads, floats and plastic table cloths. Piles of molding paper, pill bugs, spiders and mouse poop were scooped up and deposited in the bags.
The pool shed is clean. It is empty of the old, the useless, the faded and torn. It is empty of the past.
Even though I cried as I cleaned it, I was proud that we brought it back to a state that would make Dad happy.
So today I was at my Mom’s. A clean up company was coming to haul away all the old junk and trash that we had piled up. I was standing in the garage, making sure I knew what was supposed to go.
I was looking at the shelves. The rows of paint brushes, arranged by size. Untouched since 1995, but arranged by size. I picked up a roll of old tape, no longer sticky, no longer of use.
I tossed it in the trash with a feeling of accomplishment. Mom came in. We started to look through the stuff in the garage. In Dad’s garage. In the place where I know I can always find my father, although I find his gravesite empty.
We slowly and carefully took down a few small items. A roll of some kind of sticky felt paper. A gummed up, unopenable can of “goo gone”. I tossed them in the trash.
Then I looked up. To the top shelf. To the highest of the 3 shelves Dad had built for his garage. There were boxes of items, mostly shoeboxes. Each was carefully marked.
“Mom” I said with firmness. “We can probably get rid of the box marked ‘adhesives’.” I knew that whatever was in there wasn’t going to adhere to much of anything anymore.
Mom didn’t answer. Instead, she pointed to the next box on the shelf. “What are those?”
I looked up. It was an old shoebox, closed tightly. On the side, in my Dad’s careful handwriting, was the single word “dowels.”
Who else except my Dad, the world’s more organized and careful handyman, would have a shoebox marked “dowels?” I stood there. Mom stood beside me.
“I guess it has dowels,” I said. Mom didn’t answer for a minute.
“Let’s just leave this,” she said.
I have never agreed with my Mom more than I did right then. I wiped my tears with dusty fingers, then reverently replaced the ‘adhesives’ box.
I think we were almost ready to let some of it go. But we were stopped by that one word. “dowels”
We miss you, Dad. I’m not even sure what a dowel is, but I can’t throw yours away,