Nobody really wanted the job of clearing my Dad’s house after he died, it was too sad. So many memories, both tangible and intangible, are in the cottage where he had lived for 35 years. It was the house to which my parents retired to when my father no longer worked in the capital city, in a rural location which they had chosen together. Before deciding where to move, they took a series of mini breaks around the countryside, to settle on a place which both agreed felt like ‘home’. 15 years ago, when he was widowed, he sprinkled my mother’s ashes in the fields around the house. She became one with the panoramic view which both of them had enjoyed from the cottage windows; it’s where my father wants us to spread his ashes too, we’ve planned it for their wedding anniversary.
Of course Covid-19 had its finger in this pie. It was not the disease that ended my father’s life; blame his 91 year old heart growing weak, his lungs becoming congested and other parts of his body gently shutting down. The pandemic, however, meant that we had time to cremate him, but could not hold his memorial service and celebrate his life. For months the rules of lockdown forbade us from visiting his house despite needing to search for paperwork that our solicitor wanted. Once the social distancing relaxed we could begin thinning out the clothes and possessions which he and my mother had accumulated over the years.
Nobody wanted the job of clearing the house, but if we all do it together, perhaps it would not hurt so much, or present such a daunting task. I have 3 siblings to help me and we’re tackling it once a week, spending the whole day there. It will get to a point where it no longer looks like their home, and once the house is sold, that’s the end of an era.
We try to make 3 distinctions when sorting:
Items of value which can be auctioned or sold
Useful items which can go to a charity shop
Things to be thrown away/ dumped
**A subsection in the first two categories is to consider whether we, or our children, want to keep/use. Items, large or small, with which to decorate our homes or use while being reminded of the many times we saw my parents use them.
Sometimes I dread going to the house, it is so empty without my father there, and yet it’s currently as it was when he lived. It is heartbreaking to disassemble the place so that we no longer feel his presence there. But on the flip side of the coin, we often unearth a piece of memorabilia which takes us back to our childhood:
The swimming trunks my father wore when he taught us to swim in the cold waters around Middleton, Brightlingsea or Clacton.
The bird book he kept close to hand so that he could identify the swallows, pied wagtails, woodpeckers, curlews and any other birds he saw.
The little blue alarm clock he used when teaching us how to tell the time.
My mother’s Dymo label maker, used for printing names on the spines of A4 ring binders.
The Oxford dictionary with black tape mending it which both would use to assist them completing the crossword each day.
Our clearance has unearthed photos in abundance. This wonderful treasure trove tracks my parents as they fell in love, got themselves a puppy, had their first baby, followed swiftly by another. Family holidays are captured in a camper van, on boats, at the beach. Another baby was born, they moved to a new home, obtained a larger dog, had another child. There are pictures of us in balaclavas and silly hats, wearing fancy dress and formal clothes. The images, both monotone and colour, record school days, birthdays and Christmas.
Many of the pictures are in frames, those that had pride of place in the 70s are in perspex cubes. My mother’s early photo albums hold tiny square pictures mounted on their black pages, with captions written with white ink in her cursive script. The albums with pictures from my teenage years held the photos on a sticky board background, with a protective over-layer of cellophane sheets, but the background no longer sticks, which allows the photographs therein to spill from their pages.
My mother undertook a project to depict her family tree informally. She made a montage of her mother’s side of the family in one large frame, her father’s side in a matching frame. But as this did not use up all the pictures, we’ve found some sepia images of my handsome grandfather – a neat man small enough to buy his suits and shirts from the boy’s section at the tailor. My grandmother, being the only girl in a family of 3 boys, her sweet, beautiful face shines out of every family photograph. She was rather photogenic. As her marriage made her more prosperous, she dressed ever more stylishly, a ‘knack’ which she handed down to my mother.
One carrier bag revealed several studio photographs of a couple poised to dance, dressed up and ready to quickstep or cha cha towards the camera lens. My siblings and I couldn’t recognise this couple, or anyone else in the black and white pictures in the bag. These dance images are so intriguing that I plan to write a story about them – but that’s for another day. For this post I’m sharing images of a man who I unfortunately never knew, and his beautiful wife, my grandmother.