closet cleaning

When we were on vacation last week, my dad and I cleaned out a closet.

It is a closet in a cabin that was built nearly forty years ago. It is a closet in a cabin that is used for only part of the year. It is a closet full of stuff.

Dad sat on his lawn tractor. It gives him legs that move faster than his walker. I picked pieces off the shelf and carried them to the door. He told me where to put each piece, sometimes asking “do you want it?”, sometimes saying “yes” when I asked if I could have it.

Neither of us said much more than that. Anyone watching would think we were pretty calm. Anyone watching would have been wrong.

As each piece was carried, evaluated, sorted, both of us were remembering.

The aluminum pole with a hoop was a fishing net, the kind that he and I had used decades ago when we fished together. I never realized how much I liked that, how much it shaped me, until years after we stopped.

The tool box, worn plywood, was built to hold the tools that were then used by my dad to help build a camp for boys. When he started, it was a bare field, empty woods.  When he moved onto other responsibilities, both field and forest were full of cabins and life. Because it was born a couple years after me, I used to think of Nathaniel (the camp’s name) as my little brother. It is still being used, still shaping lives.

The metal and plastic circle was the dome light from an old car. Dad had kept it to someday put a light in it.

Piece after piece. Story after story. Dream after dream. Memory after memory.

We kept the process factual, but we knew that this was a passing of a baton.

My dad was giving me some projects to pick up, some tools to use. He was giving me permission to toss some of what he had worked on because his projects are not necessarily mine. He was giving us the chance to remember what we have done together while we could do that remembering together. He was reminding me that stuff, after all, is just stuff and that people are what are worth saving.

We took a load of stuff to the dump that afternoon. Much of it is surely gone (though the guy at the dump did his own gleaning.) And that is a good thing.

But I did rescue the tool box. After all, it built my brother. I need it to help me remember to build things that build people.

Thanks, Dad.


8 responses to “closet cleaning

  1. Jon, what a wonderful piece of gentle writing. There are so many layers to it, so many stories, so much love.

    Thanks for passing some of it on.

  2. Great story.

    We did that with my mom’s stuff in late June, the week after she died. We thought how many treasures there were that we just didn’t have time to ponder or deal with properly.

    What a joy that you were able to go through some of that stuff with you dad by your side.

  3. Paul, exactly. It was such a gift.

  4. thank you, Joanna, my gentle-writing hero.

  5. You might have physically thrown away some of those items, but their memory lives on in this beautiful writing. I could feel the emotions reading it. (And I tried to imagine the same scenario happening with my Italian family 🙂 “What? You’re getting rid of that? How about if you…? Isn’t that the tool…?? Don’t you know…???” Oy vey.).

  6. Lowell Swanson

    What a great story about a special time in two special mens lives. I too had such an opportunity with my Dad some years ago, and have since realized how comforting it is to look back on and remember; so glad you had that time.

  7. Diana. Swedes have those same thoughts. They just are on the inside.

    Cousin Lowell – thank you.

  8. Sally Lepley

    How much more enjoyable the closet cleaning is with its owner there with you. As Paul alluded to, when the closets are “cleaned” after they are gone there just seems to be something missing. The “whose was this?”, “where did you acquire this?”, “it was Uncle Cressie’s…”, etc. never get an answer and that always leaves a bit of a hole. As with Bill’s Mom, her body is still here but her mind isn’t always, thus the memories & stories aren’t here either. Kudos to both you and your Dad for tackling a bittersweet job together.