Memories of the things they left behind


My mother and I stood in the doorway of my grandmother’s house.

It was still, dark, quiet.

There was also that strange smell that begins to invade a house that has been empty for a long time.

Maw Maw’s house has been empty for several years. When she died, we locked her house up, leaving most of her belongings inside.

Now we were back, ready to sift through the remains of her life. We needed to go through and keep what we wanted before the estate sale company came through behind us.

“Well,” I said, flicking on a light. “Let’s get to work.”

My mother and I took separate rooms and began to look through a mountain of boxes, drawers and plastic storage containers.

Maw Maw was a hoarder. There was no doubt about that.

“Look at all these,” Momma said, surrounded by over 30 Ziploc bags. “These bags are all filled with utility bill receipts from the past 30 years. Why would she hang on to this stuff?”

Shrugging my shoulders, I went back to work in her old bedroom. As I sorted through a bag of costume jewelry, I saw one of Maw Maw’s old sweaters on the floor.

It was a loud, very loud, knit sweater. Across the bottom was a scene from a Latin American dance sequence. With brightly-colored thread and a few sequins, it looked like a tango party with a 1970s twist.

I smiled as I grabbed the sweater, thinking how could anyone wear something like this. But Maw Maw did, and she wore it proud.

Feeling a bit silly, I shoved the sweater up to my nose and took in a deep breath. It still smelled like her perfume.

I almost cried, but I didn’t.

Looking across that sea of green shag-like carpet, I saw my Maw Maw’s possessions scattered around.

A television from the 80s stood alone against a bare wall. A photograph of me in the first grade sat on top of it.

A closet remained open filled with knit sweaters, cotton pants, Sunday dresses, leather shoes, wool coats. And each and every article of clothing still smelled like Maw Maw.

Letters openers, plastic necklaces, vintage rain gear, school annuals...all littered the floor.

And tucked away in a drawer were four loose sheets of paper from a coloring book. My name was scribbled across the top.

“She kept my pages too,” I said to myself.

I almost cried, but I didn’t.

I decided to move to another room. The kitchen would be a good start. Cabinets filled with Pyrex bowls, bundt pans and milk-white glasses would occupy my time for awhile.

Tucked away in the very back of a cabinet, I saw an old glass juice container decorated with 1950s-style oranges.

“I remember this,” I said, pulling it out. “It was supposed to be for juice, but Maw Maw always kept water in it in the fridge.”

I immediately flashedback to when I was probably six years old. I was stretched out on the couch, sick with strep throat. Covered up by a heavy quilt, Maw Maw made sure I was warm and had cartoons to watch.

“I’m gonna leave this by the couch on the floor,” she said, placing the juice jug down. “You ain’t even got to get up. You just drink out of this. I’ll run boiling water over it tonight to kill those germs.”

That jug was mine, my own personal jug.

And looking at it in that quiet kitchen, it still looked the same.

I almost cried, but I didn’t.

I wrapped a towel around the jug and placed it in my Momma’s car trunk. It would make the journey back to Yazoo City where it would be filled with water and put in my own fridge.

Over the next few hours, Momma and I continued to look through just plain old junk, a ton of clothes and a million papers. We laughed at the different clothing styles over the past few decades. We sat together and looked at old family photographs. We carried sentimental things out to the car. We swept away spider webs and even killed a few wasps.

I wanted to finish one more room before we left that day. It was the room that held my Paw Paw’s things.

I uncovered writing pens from his office at International Paper Company. I found his old pocket knife and tiger-eye ring. I laughed when I discovered a snake bite kit.

There was even a bill of sale for a camper.

“I took you camping one time when you were little,” Momma said. “Tent and everything. But your Paw Paw went out and bought a camper the next day. He said his grandbaby wasn’t sleeping on the ground.”

Momma made her way out of the room to turn off the lights so we could head home.

And then I did cry. But only for a second.

Shoving Paw Paw’s pocket knife in my pocket, I closed his bedroom door.

But then, having a second thought, I left it open.

I want to leave it open, just a little longer...for as long as I can.