Today I, along with Julie’s family, Matt and Quinn, drove down to Redwood City to go through the effects of Julie’s grandparents to select items to keep before the rest of their earthly possessions become part of an estate sale. The experience was a surreal one, and while we managed to get a lot of interesting things, some of them quite nice, it was a little odd to be walking through the home of people that had passed away over a year ago, and the house hadn’t been occupied in about two years, other than people trying to catalog the possessions of the house.
I had only been there a couple of times myself before, but for Julie and her family, this was a place they knew very well. I personally hadn’t been in more than two or three rooms in the entire house, but Julie had been all over the house. The living room, once covered in black and white shag carpet (now removed) was full of curios and books and had a player piano that Julie and her brother used to watch play different tunes – It doesn’t work anymore. They used to play downstairs in the basement room — the kid play area. Now, it’s filled with mold and junk and stale air. The pool at the side of the house is black with mold and filled with all sorts of organics. For me, this was a place in decay. To Julie and family, it must be some strange pale echo of a house once alive and full.
We walked the rooms, locating all the items Julie and her family had tagged and cruising for any last items that we might want to take with us before the rest gets put into an estate sale. As a relative outsider, it was a strange experience for me, to pick through the possessions of the dearly departed for things I might want to keep. I did grab a few things. A pocket knife. A few lighters. A bag of golf clubs. We got some cool furniture. Julie picked up some things that were special to her. For her, these items have a reflection of her grandparents, of a life of memories. To me, they’re just cool things. I feel like a fortunate scavenger, but I try and remember the context of all of the items. I try to picture Bob (or Poppa) using these items — sitting in this chair — playing a round of golf with these clubs. In this, I honor the life that went before.
Honestly, I didn’t know Bob or Natalie all that well. Bob fell into dementia around nine years ago, starting ironically with a feeling of negativity towards me of all people — feeling that I snubbed him in some way at Julie’s brother’s wedding. He fell into steady decline, forgetting people and details of his life until he became little more than a shell of a man. This was extremely hard for Julie and her family to watch. I felt really bad for them, but to me — I only knew the man for about a year, and that was only at family occasions. He was evidently an amazing man, and I wished I could have known him better. I knew Natalie only slightly better, but unfortunately she was a gruff person that took Bob’s feelings of me to heart early on, and I never really got back on her good side. She fell into depression and finally succumbed to a terminal brain tumor herself. It is hard for the family to know if this affected her in any way, but she pulled away from everyone several years before.
All that I know about Julie’s grandparents are what I am told about them. I see their greatness reflected in their progeny’s eyes and hearts. At Bob’s memorial service, I got a glimpse of a man loved and respected by many. I didn’t get a chance to go to Natalie’s.
So, here I am, standing in the echo of two lives, placing their artifacts within the context of my own life. It’s a sort of history I don’t really have from my own family. We don’t have pictures of ancestors, or family heirlooms. My sense of family pretty much ends with my own grandparents, who are either still living, or did not leave behind anything in their wake. In a way unexpected, this has enriched my life. I connect with the stream of life, even if it is not a genetic link. I somehow am more firmly rooted in history. I have been contextualized.