Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still Life

They bought the house in 1990 after they sold the farm. Sparkling new, with white linoleum, countertops and walls, it must have seemed a great luxury after the farmhouse. Running water, city sewers and no early-morning chores to deal with... they finally had the kind of life they worked so hard for.

Grandma was an Irishwoman and yet a lady, as someone remarked laughingly. In thrifty Irish spirit, she treasured her house and belongings. Nearly twenty years later, the linoleum gleams as new and the white paint throughout looks fresh. There’s not a stick of furniture in the house newer than ten years old and one suspects most of it is much older than that; yet it too is lovingly maintained. Her bedroom closet holds her daily clothing, perhaps a dozen tops and half that number of slacks. (She wore slacks, not pants; and certainly not jeans. Or if she did, they were ironed complete with creases.) In other closets her “good” clothes are hung; outfits that attended weddings and funerals on her. These dresses and suits hang formally on the hangers as they hung on her lithe, graceful frame; seemingly imbued with her presence when she wore them. It’s hard to imagine anyone else wearing them.

The house is for sale now. With Grandma reduced to a box of ashes that Grandpa takes into the bedroom with him at night, there’s no reason to stay there any longer. It’s too much house for an old man, especially when he is so far away from family. Extended family descended over the weekend when her memorial was held and stripped the house bare of valuables and things that remind them of her. There’s not much left in the house, and that suits him fine. He doesn’t consider material possessions important; they were hers and what else is one to do with them? The middle daughter has obsessively polished the house to a fair gloss when the crowds left, getting the house ready to show. It will show well; being so lovingly maintained and having a feeling of spaciousness from being so empty. Grandpa has asked a high initial price; he says he will buy a new chain with which to wear his wife’s old wedding ring around his neck with if he gets what he asks. As of now, the ring rests on a thin chain of silver that must have also been his wife’s.

She had time before she died to make sure her good jewellery went where she wanted it to go. Her new wedding rings to the eldest daughter. The special necklace that Grandpa had made for her with her first initial as a pendant went to the granddaughter who was given that same name by virtue of a middle name. So on, until all of worth was distributed, and a strange collection of leftovers remained. A chunky chain with a strange buffalo pendant, a pin in the shape of a garden hoe, an iridescent swallow. Several small angel pins, some with birthstones and some without. The flotsam and jetsam of one woman’s life, possessions that meant something to her and nothing to others. They are picked through, puzzled over, and most are ultimately discarded.

It’s the end of an era. Grandpa’s of an age where he can’t really live alone; he’ll need help to do the stuff of daily life that his wife used to manage. The laundry room and the kitchen are foreign lands where a man of his generation had no need to learn the language or customs thereof. His daughters solicitously fill the freezer with single portions of home-cooked food, and that will get him through until the house sells. After that, he will move in with the eldest daughter. No-one believes this will be for long; it is apparent to all that his wife took his spirit with her and he’s just patiently waiting to join her.

5 comments:

Aline said...

A touching observation of a home and a husband.

I missed you at the last Guild meeting.

Take care.

Velda said...

Sad and beautiful all at the same time.

How are you doing?

exurbanpedestrian said...

A lovely tribute and memory of two timeless people

Five Ferns Fibreholic said...

It was a wonderful tribute of the tight knit relationship between two people.

You did both of them justice with your loving descriptions.

Linda said...

You touched my heart. This is lovely beyond imagining. You write so very well, my Sue. I read it to Amanda over the phone tonight. She says, "It was beautiful, hearing it summed up like that. The end of the story. She just really portrayed the end of Grandma's life. It was lovely. Good for her."