Monday, August 19, 2013

Cleaning My Childhood Home

The summer didn’t go at all as planned. I quit my job and planned to relax the whole month of May until the children were out of school. First things first, I put myself out there and I let people know that I had quit my job and that I was going to start my own business. The calls and the requests for meetings poured in. I was flattered but also a little overwhelmed.
In June my father threw a big curveball at me when he decided to move in with me. I wasn’t prepared and I’m still not organized. He had been living with my sister since January after a serious illness at the end of December 2012.
He wasn’t getting along very well with my sister. He was only allowed to walk in the house and the back yard. So one day in June he decided to sneak out, jump the low end of the back fence, and he walked to the donut shop all alone. Not a good thing, but I think he had reached the end of his rope. He felt like he was confined to her house, which who are we kidding, he was. That was the beginning of a 2 day downward spiral that resulted in him calling me and asking me to go get him.

So that’s how at the end of June I found myself taking care of him.

He had only been here for a couple of weeks when in early July we received an unexpected request to rent his house. We were not prepared for this in the least.

My mom passed away in 2000 and at that time the sisters had all taken different knick knacks of my mom’s and my eldest sister’s that we cherished. My sister had passed away in 1995 and my mother had many of her things, including her jewelry.

Other than the jewelry and a few things, we didn’t really go through the house and we didn't give it a good cleaning. Except for that one time when my dad cleaned out the attic and he asked each of us to come by to review the boxes and to take what belonged to us. That’s when I found my Kindergarten workbook.
But to clean the house, really clean the house, room by room, to empty it out and to prepare it for someone else, wasn’t something we had done.

My father, being elderly and not really understanding how things work acted as if it were not a big deal. I knew better.

I went to his house for eight days straight cleaning 4-8 hours a day, depending on the day and what else I had going on. My sister came in for four of those 8 days to help. We hired a woman to help us one day with some heavy scrubbing and I took the kids to help me on another day to move out all the trash.

What my sister and I found in those days that we cleaned was incredible. My mother kept everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. We wondered if she had an obsession with graduation and wedding invitations because she had so many! She had invitations from weddings from the 1960s through the 1990s. She also had income tax returns from the 1960s. She had all of those organized by year very neatly, but she had them all.

My parents were Jehovah's Witnesses so they had Watchtowers from the 1940s and almost every convention program from the 1940s through the 1990s. My father had even added some from the 2000s in there for good measure.
Among the memories that she kept I also found very touching pieces as well. She had an envelope with cards that she received when I was born. She had an envelope with a decree from our then city mayor, Louis Welch declaring February 11 Loida Day. She had my original birth certificate signed by my doctor, Dr. Boone. She had a folder with all of my report cards, first grade through fifth grade and some other grades in middle school and high school. The folder was also filled with every certificate and award I ever received.  I felt nostalgic and I missed her so much when I saw these things.

There were some items that we found that meant more to my sister, because they reminded her of things that happened before I was born and before I even existed.

My sister found a letter to my sisters that apparently my mother had written from the Valley. My sister was too young when the letter was written and she can’t remember why my mother had traveled. She said it was around the time she had lost our brother who was born premature. I wondered if she had needed an escape and had gone down there for a little while to get better. It was written when my sisters were young and a couple of years before I was born.

The letter is such a telling tale of how well my mother knew my sisters. She gives each one of them advice on how to act while she was gone and as she addresses each one she points out their challenging personality traits. For example she tells my sister, who was the youngest at the time, “don’t be jumping around like a monkey and don’t hurt yourself like you often do.” My sister cracked up laughing when she read it.
There were also many things that I knew and that I remembered more than my sister because I lived with my parents the longest. For example, when my mother died I wanted a couple of pieces of jewelry that she bought when I was with her. I remembered how she debated between the cocktail diamond ring and a sofa at the jewelry counter at Montgomery Wards. I went with her on her shopping quest for a blue aquamarine ring in Mexico. I’m happy to say I have both of those pieces.

This time as we cleaned we came across my mother’s molcajete. I told my sister I wanted it even though I knew it was actually her second molcajete and not the original one I had grown up seeing her use. I remember the day that she finally bore a hole of the bottom of the old one and how she complained about the time it would take to wear this new one down smooth enough to use.
It was a melancholy feeling as well as a victorious feeling when I finished cleaning the house on the last day that our new tenant prepared to move in. I looked around at all the empty rooms that held so many memories for me.

When my mom died my then husband and I agreed to move in with my dad for a while, until he became accustomed to the idea of living alone. They had been married for 52 years at the time of my mom's death.  We lived there for almost two years with him and my daughter was born during that time. She spent the first few months of her life in those rooms and I nursed her in the old blue chair we were throwing out.
Since I moved out eleven years ago the house didn’t remind me of my mother any more. My father had collected junk in the front room, that had been my bedroom when I was a little girl and later a dining room when my mother was still alive.

Now that the house was clean it brought back so many memories of my mother. As I cleaned each room it reminded me more and more of the feeling in those rooms when she was alive. I knew that she would have been very happy to know that we were helping my dad and I think she would have been happy that we were renting the house to our front door neighbor's daughter. She always like them a lot.  

Before she died my mother made me promise that I would take care of my dad. No doubt she knew what a challenge that would be and she had a feeling he would live a long life, unlike her.  I know I’m not the perfect daughter, but I’m doing my best, and I think my mom would be happy knowing that.


Bonnie said...

Thank you for sharing this. It makes me tear up as I miss my daddy very much.

Your momma is proud of you!


Loida Casares said...

Thank you Bonnie.