For the past five days my sister and I - plus our surviving brother, who has driven up from Illinois - have worked to prepare our mother's house for sale. She has not lived there for more than two years, since we moved her to an assisted living facility better equipped than we are to deal with the later stages of Alzheimer's Disease.
The home is a plainer version of my own gable-and-wing Victorian, L-shaped instead of T-shaped, with a screened-porch made for lazy summer afternoons and sultry summer nights. In late fall, it is cozy, and even as we have packed box after box and bag after bag for delivery to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill or the garbage collectors, we have - at least I have - found the experience mostly pleasant. It has taken us forever, it seems, as we started gradually a year ago, held four yard sales in summer and early fall, and each taken the items that mean something to us.
And there are many items there, as the house has been in my father's family since the 1930s, in the heart of the old cattle trader's neighborhood, three blocks each from church and synagogue. Only a few more blocks and you are in the old downtown, only a block from a busy street; you can hear sirens at night and train whistles in the wee hours of the morning.
My grandparents lived there for more than 30 years, my parents for 10 together and then my mother for 30 more years as a widow. It is the house to which we four children returned from college, from which we all married, and at which we celebrated many years of holidays.
The house contains china and glassware from grandmothers and aunts, my Grandfather Herb's college accounting books and my Grandfather Harry's railroad watch, my mother's 1940s fashions and hatboxes from the years she modeled, books and homework assignments from four children, odd bits of furniture from every side of the family and so much more.
Baby clothes, hairless dolls, old games, mismatched gloves, silver, old crocks and many many books; skies, golf clubs, basketball schedules, broken tennis rackets and old striped beach towels - these and thousands of other items complicate the job. It is easy to linger over each piece - and remember.
I have taken it upon myself to accumulate at least 10 boxes of old photos and letters, some going back to the Civil War. I will sort through them and make sure everyone gets a share.
Sorting through and discarding or rerouting old things brings laughter and tears - that's a given. It is especially sad that many of the items we are handling belonged to my brother who died three months ago; I will send them to his children.
Our task is 80 percent complete. Tomorrow we gather at my sister's house only a few blocks away for a day of rest and celebration - and dinner. Our celebration - being together, being able to do things for our mother (though she does not remember who we are) and completing a long, arduous task - will include this recipe.
I am exceeding grateful for many things this year; I have been most fortunate. But tomorrow I will be grateful for having had this tough but lovely week to spend with my siblings and our respective spouses. Here's to you!