The Ancient Artifacts Of Family Life

January 10, 2015 10:16 amViews: 179
The Compound front entry yard light

One Last Look At The Family Compound


No, these aren't the artifacts of some ancient archaeological dig buried under layers of dried mud and dirt, they are the treasures and trash left over from decades of collecting meaningful mementos and "the stuff" which your parents somehow thought was important. Some of us have just a little of that stuff, others, like my parents, probably have a large dumpster full of it.

Instead of being buried under layers of mud, some of those ancient family artifacts are buried under that "stuff" and some of the real treasures are secretly hidden away in a drawer under everything else, possibly because they had a very special meaning to a deceased parent.

These are the things you discover when the base of your childhood existence disintegrates in 2 months and you finally have to let go of both your mother and father. As you discover treasures tucked away in drawers, cabinets and cubbyholes on this family archaeological dig, you also discover buried emotions some deeply hidden, some at the surface which can be triggered in less than an instant making you feel as though you could quite possibly turn inside out.

Mom's wallet

Mom's wallet with her change still in it

There are signs of life all around the nearly 5 decade old family compound in what was once a slightly remote part of the Florida Space Coast (Okay, it's not really a compound, but that's what it seemed like to a little boy fascinated by the launch of Apollo moon missions he could see from the back yard and enthralled with the recurring summer fish frys supplied with a wonderful bounty from the well stocked lake at the back of the property). One of those signs of life include a stack of newspapers read only a day or so before the widower of just 6 weeks left for a holiday with family, but never returned to the compound.

More signs include the flowery earrings and the turquoise colored jewelry left on Mom's nightstand and a wallet still full of change left in the exact spot it lay when she took her final trip to the hospital. The blue stone pendant hanging from a cheap chain buried deep in the handkerchief drawer must have held some significant meaning for Mom as it was tucked tightly into a corner in the back. It was hidden as if reserved only for a special occasion or just a quick peek for her to reminisce about days past when she could get out of the house more. Maybe she wore it to one of the boys graduations or Scouting awards ceremonies. The secret of her concealed jewelry will be hidden forever.

Mom's blue stone pendant

Mom's blue stone pendant

All along main street as old dilapidated zoos get torn down, orange groves get turn into malls and what was once the Mayor's house and multi acre lot turns into a grocery store and a seafood restaurant, the compound on the lake changed from the neighborhood fishing and swimming location for "the gang," into a family gathering place during holidays and finally into a less frequently visited retirement home badly in need of repair and cleaning as it became too much to handle for my aging parents.

Transitions in life are not unexpected, but some such as this, especially when punctuated by physical artifacts which bring up memories of trips to the Grand Canyon when people still actually lived there and the flowery jewelry of a classy lady bringing beauty into her life, can be excruciatingly painful at times. Opening a drawer you used to snoop through when your parents were out on a date night, instead of bringing on guilt or a sudden terror of being caught, can now bring on a dehydrating flood of tears.

Even though we know those transitions are out there over the horizon awaiting all of us, you never really think they will change the normalcy of life we all get lulled in to. How does the strong woman who supervised a recovery room at a major hospital, spending a life of service as a nurse and the man who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory having weekly meetings with Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, at one of his first jobs out of college, get to the point they can hardly take care of themselves? The, "things like that only happen to other people" side of your psyche quietly and repeatedly tells you, 'people like that don't die.'

Yes, they do.

And they leave a lot of history and artifacts behind.

Dad's thank you note to mom for marrying him. Mom kept it by her bedside.

Dad thanks mom for marrying him

Over the next couple of months as the family archaeologists rummage through the the trash, treasures and ordinary signs of life, cleaning up the compound one last time, there will be remembrances and more tears. It could be especially hard as strangers and garage salers cart off in a moment what has taken my parents a lifetime to acquire, taking with them a piece of furniture or an artifact with a hidden memory somewhere. Maybe it will be the coffee table with the corner slightly chewed by our first puppy. Maybe it will be the 8-track player and the 8-track tapes (yes, people do collect them), one of which includes songs by the female drummer and singer I was madly in love with, Karen Carpenter.

Few artifacts will be kept by the family as my wife and I go through a transition of our own, moving away from the area I have called home for 47 years. But life is full of transitions, only this major one with my parents is magnitudes harder than others such as the one punctuated by the "stay sweet" and "stay cool" wishes from a high school yearbook.

So, what's the life lesson in all this (There needs to be a life lesson HERE of all places)...

Love your family. Learn to live in the moment with the human treasures. Keep the few special, physical treasures, not the trash. Get rid of the trash. Please.

Your legacy is not "the stuff" you insist on holding onto.

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