By MARSHA MERCER
For the past half century, I have spent part of every
holiday season at my parents’ home in Richmond.
As I bumped around to Charlottesville, New York, Richmond,
back to Charlottesville, and then to Washington and Northern Virginia, I’d always
circle back to my parents’ home for holiday visits. They visited me a few times
but preferred their own digs.
I won’t be making the trip down I-95 from Alexandria this
year. My parents are gone, and I sold their house earlier this month.
Those are the facts, but “sold their house” doesn’t come
close to expressing the emotional and physical work of the last few months. Caring
for an ailing parent, grieving and clearing out one’s parents’ home are an inevitability
for most of us but something we hope never to have to face.
My mother died in 2014 at 93. I still feel a twinge saying
her age. She would have killed me for telling it – at least until she passed
90. My dad fell at home last December and died in February at 99.
They had lived in the same house in the West End since
1971, never downsizing once they put down roots after my dad’s military career
took them all over the world.
They never read Marie Kondo and her advice to get rid
of anything that doesn’t spark joy or Margareta Magnusson’s “The Gentle Art of Swedish
Death Cleaning,” which I’m sure would be more popular with a less morbid title.
Once my parents were both gone, all their stuff became
mine to deal with.
That’s a daunting task, but many baby boomers have it
worse with feuding siblings or childhood memories. I’m an only child and didn’t
grow up in the house, but there were still memories aplenty.
I am fortunate my dad, who taught at VCU into his 70s,
was mentally sharp to the end. My parents each had a will and a trust, and my
dad kept his financial records in meticulous order.
But he and my mother were loath to throw anything away – in case they might need it. They were both paper packrats – as am I. I found boxes of black and white family photos, letters and greeting cards.
My dad kept
receipts for every purchase of furniture and accessories, paint job, roof
repair and home improvement. When emails were new, my mother printed them out
and kept them. I brought too much back to sort through later.
I am grateful beyond words for my partner Keith, who
was kind and cheerful through it all, and Kelli, the stalwart friend of my
dad’s who became like family, and her two exceptional sons, Christian and
Grant. They all did a lot of heavy lifting, literally.
Our Realtor, Steve, calmly and patiently helped me
through the daunting process.
Fortunately, an industry has evolved to help people
dispose of their stuff. I found Angela who was personable, professional and efficient
and conducted a hybrid online and in-person estate sale.
I quickly learned my mother’s prized possessions –
brown furniture, china, silver and crystal – aren’t in favor.
Getting rid of them is like living in that segment on
“Antiques Roadshow” where they re-evaluate the appraised price of items from
years earlier, except with house clearing everything that once was worth
something is now worth next to nothing.
“Nobody wants it,” was a refrain I heard over and
I live in a small townhouse so couldn’t take much furniture.
I sent some to my cousins and other family members. But I boxed up my mother’s
Wedgwood, after learning it would fetch only $1 a plate, and her silver, which
would be melted down, and brought it home. I resolved to set a nice table.
I gave away much to charities. I hired Linda to help
clear remaining clutter and make more trips to Goodwill. Four times people hauled
away “junk” nobody wanted.
The new owners, a young couple with two young children,
will be redoing their new house and creating their own memories of home. That’s
the way of property. It’s yours only for a while. All we can do is enjoy it and
then let it go.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.