I’m dancing with ghosts this week. That’s right, ghosts!
I’m clearing out my childhood home and everything I look at or touch has a memory attached to it. My mother designed this house and my father built it. They are in every nail and board. We moved in when I was four, so it’s really the only house I remember.
Downstairs, under the carpet, my little footprints, less than three inches long, remain painted on the floor. I awoke from my nap one summer afternoon and, never one to like to miss anything, was in a hurry to find out what my mother was doing. She was painting one of the bedrooms downstairs and when I flew through the door, so happy to have found her; I knocked the paint can off the ladder. The paint felt so deliciously cool on my feet that I splashed around in it for awhile. Those tiny footsteps lead all the way up the steps, up which I fled with my mother’s shocked and angry voice chasing me.
That open space in front of the picture windows is where we always put our Christmas tree. The ornaments are stored in a box, with my mother’s perfect handwriting labeling its contents as such. The “Christmas Ornaments” box has a lot of company. There are similar boxes stacked from floor to ceiling on the shelves in the basement, all with that familiar handwriting accurately labeling each. “Fabric” sits snuggly between “Art Supplies” and “Wrapping Paper.”
My mission, although I don’t recall ever actually being asked and agreeing to it, is to go through every one of those boxes. When a parent dies everyone tells you about the sadness and grief and missing you’ll feel, but they don’t ever mention the ghosts. They don’t tell you about having to deal with everything left behind in these lives well lived.
It has been over six years since my father died and a little over a year since my mother’s passing. It’s time. It’s time for me to begin opening and sorting through the remnants of my parents’ lives. It’s time to go through, not only the boxes, but each drawer and every closet and determine what stays and what goes. I have to do this because everything in this house meant something to someone who meant the world to me.
One of the things I’ve been amazed to learn in this process is that, when you’re dancing with ghosts it is possible to cry and smile at the same time.