My brother's house is now empty. In one long marathon of packing, we finished it all up. I'm happy to report that nothing was broken except for a glass lid on a Corning Ware dish that was the victim of my nephews' swordfighting with a curtain rod and a yardstick. (Did I mention my nephews are 33 and 31??) I have six boxes of Rodger's belongings at my house left to go through, but I'm finding it's easier to do a little at a time. In the meantime, my littlest cat Gracie has claimed one of the boxes as her bed. I'm also happy to report that the box the boys thought was full of porn (which I'm sure is why it was packed into my vehicle) had only one porn mag in it, right on top. The rest of the crate contained architecture magazines. Who knew Rodge was into Mid-Century Modern?
I decorated both parlors for Christmas this year. The front parlor has a 7-ft Christmas tree loaded with ornaments and surrounded by a quilted and beaded Christmas tree skirt, a little table with four caroler figurines on it, and lighted garland strung along the mantel with two glass hurricane vases full of minature gold ball ornaments and lights. The back parlor has a 6-ft tree with a broken stand held together with Hello Kitty duck tape and nothing on it but lights. Guess which parlor the kitties have access to?
Other than that, not much going on here at the house. After Christmas the wallpapering of the front parlor will begin again in earnest.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been..."
The Grateful Dead, "Truckin"
I've never before had to pack up a house after someone's death. It's odd and sad and sometimes funny and mostly surreal. All the things we accumulate, all the mundane bits and pieces and the occasional extraordinary object, when taken separately don't seem to amount to much...but together, it's someone's life. There are secrets in our family, and half-truths, and things told (or not) with the idea of protecting someone, and some of that's been laid bare in the process of packing up my brother's house.
I should have seen that coming, but I didn't. Neither did Rodger's sons, Jimi and Jon. So we've spent almost as much time sitting together smoking and talking about Rodger's life as we have in packing it up. An afternoon goes like this: we split up into different rooms of the house and start going through things, then I stop to read an old letter and get teary-eyed, and Jimi yells from the kitchen, "What the hell are all these photos of three coffins?", and then we hear Jon tell the neighbor "We want our food back" when the guy admits he cleaned out my brother's fridge, and then the three of us meet in the living room so I can share the letter and explain the three coffins (those of my maternal grandparents and my cousin, from the car wreck), and we laugh at Jon for saying that to the neighbor, and then pretty soon we're out on the back porch again huddled together on a plastic bench against the rain and cold, smoking Marlboros. A few days of this before Jimi starts chuckling and says, "This is ironic, ya know? The three of us smoking outside dad's house when he died of lung cancer," and then I laugh and say that I quit smoking years ago but I'm only doing it now because I'm giving in to peer pressure, and Jon laughs and says, "It is what it is."
That's become our frequent refrain: It is what it is. Because I don't have the answers to the questions the boys ask me, and none of us knows why Rodger did the things he did, and all of us have to live with this gaping maw of regret and try to get past it somehow. In the end, what matters most is this: Rodger loved us, he was proud of us, and he did his best to protect us. It is what it is.