Donald Hall (1928 – 2018)
by Lorna Davis
The golden days of late October fade
As bleak November’s iron skies descend.
When tresses, like the leaden clouds, have greyed,
We see our fruitful time’s approaching end.
The sunshine that besieged us with its heat
Now leans against the south walls, cold and tired.
There is no empire time will not defeat;
Each Golden Age that flared has soon expired.
Byzantium lies silent under steel,
Persepolis has crumbled back to dust.
Despite the wistful longing we might feel,
All times of summer fade, as fade they must.
Embrace what time remains; it will not last.
Your autumn, too, will soon be ancient past.
One of the challenges of starting a new relationship in my 50’s is what to do with all the stuff each person has accumulated over the years? This is a joint problem of considerable size and proportions. The first problem is duplication, we both have many of the same things it takes to run a household, everything from towels to vacuum cleaners to kitchen utensils. Sometimes its an upgrade. My girl friend’s set of tools is far superior to my own and so it didn’t take much for me to got rid of a bunch of mine that were old, subpar or worn out. But sometimes what to keep and what to purge can turn into a bit of a tug of war, each partner not ready to let go of certain things and both a bit unsteady in what to support and when to throw the red objection flag on the other.
The second problem is sheer amount of stuff and where does it all possibly go? I have decided that renting a storage unit to kick that can down the road is a sketchy idea at best, and neither is buying a shipping container or building a pole barn to increase capacity for storage a great solution. There are too many things that go into storage never to reappear and if I am not diligent about getting rid of stuff, I will only create time bombs filled with dusty, rusty junk for my children to sort through after I am dead. None the less I have delayed several tough decisions for one year by taking the cowards way out and getting a storage unit for a reduced but still sizable chunk of my possessions that I did not get rid of in my most recent move. I am consciously aware it is a $110/dollar a month guilt tax to insure I have a holding pen for stuff I didn’t need this year and probably won’t next, until I screw up the resolve to get finally rid of it.
The third problem is each person has different attachments for different reasons to different things that are irreplaceable, sentimental or just stuff that you have grown attached to over the years simply because it is tied to pleasant moments in our lives. What one sees as valuable treasure the other may mistakenly see as junk and before you know it feelings are hurt when someone questions why we have combined between the two of us 10 aluminum water bottles in a drawer, when probably something like 4 or 5 would suffice.
Most people have things of sentimental value, its part of who what makes us human. These objects are signposts of our journey. It makes total sense to the person who has kept these nostalgic things, but at some point you have to fit two households into one and practicality has to influence sentiment and common sense has to kick in.
I have found this process of decluttering is made even more complicated by being the gate keepers of our dying parents estates. We are at that age and because over the years divorces have added to the incremental number of households that executors must settle it can add up. In our situation, two empty nesters that are nearly 60 somethings are grappling with the contents of not just two households worth of stuff but four or five. And, because we are related to interesting people and artists, there is lots and lots of cool stuff which is hard to part with or do it justice for the value it once represented in our loved one’s minds. Four years after my mother’s death I was still sorting boxes a month ago that I had put off prior, unsure of what to do with their contents. In the end, I threw almost all of it out, and what I didn’t throw out, I knew in the back of my mind, I was just repeating the cycle again, synthesizing eight boxes down to one, that I would eventually discard, I just wasn’t ready to do it on that day of sorting.
All of this is a bit overwhelming, the actually physically dealing with it and the emotional side of it all. Particularly when the decision process between two partners is slightly different in how to approach the challenge of simplification. Slash and burn, figuratively and in some cases literally, doesn’t work well because there are always a few bones smoldering in the embers that one of you will likely come to regret. Taking an archivist approach and lovingly storing and restoring things I have found can be equally disappointing, except for the most quirky or exceptional of memorabilia and possessions. I learned this lesson the hard way. I took the time to re-record into digital mp3 files all of the children’s books that my mother had narrated onto cassette tapes over the years as gifts for my children, tapes that we had listened to over and over and over when my kids were growing up and even into adulthood. The Christmas after her death I thought everyone would enjoy having a copy and it would be a way to prevent them from deteriorating further. Yet when the long project was finally finished and everyone was given a memory stick with all the files included, it felt oddly creepy and unsatisfying. The stories weren’t the same now that my Mother was no longer alive, and to hear her voice widened the gap in death, it didn’t shorten it. I know that I haven’t yet gotten enjoyment out of listening to them. I hope someone else has. Maybe someday I will feel differently and stumble across them again on my google cloud and listen to my mother’s read those wonderful stories and take pleasure in the sound of her voice, but for now, it is a cautionary tale on what I thought I would want in the future, may have turned out to be just fools gold weighing me down.
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.