Dot knew she was in trouble when the doorbell rang – she was still in her underwear. Joanne couldn’t be here yet. But of course, she was.
It was moving day. The date had been fixed for months, so where were all the packed boxes? Why was there still so much stuff everywhere?
“Decluttering, smuttering!” Dot muttered. It’s not clutter, it’s my life. If I let go of my stuff, my memories will go too.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” she called as the bell rang again and she reached to open the door.
Her daughter Joanne stood there, immaculate as always in her ironed jeans, tailored white shirt, Hermes scarf.
Joanne came in, gave her an air kiss but actually seemed to be looking over Dot’s shoulder. Dot thought she heard her groan.
“Mom, I thought you said you were all organized and ready to go? It doesn’t look like you’ve given anything away.”
“Well I’m almost ready. I just got held up with one or two little things.”
Joanne grimaced down at her white shirt and scarf. She went to her mother’s bedroom and came back in a borrowed flowered blouse.
Meanwhile Dot looked at the mess in the living room, seeing it through the eyes of her daughter. She felt somewhat abashed.
They got down to work, and slowly the discard pile grew. Both Dot and Joanne knew there wasn’t space for much furniture in the small apartment in the senior’s building. That was the easy part. Keep the bed, the bedside table, and one small dresser. The small kitchen table, a couple of living room chairs and not much else.
It was the rest of the stuff that was hard to deal with. Dot and Doug had travelled a lot through their long life together and had bought knickknacks and artwork from all over the world.
Now that Doug was gone, Dot was having a hard time choosing what to keep. She kept tearing up whenever Joanne put one of those memories on the discard pile.
Joanne’s face began to soften as she watched her mother. “Okay, let’s do this differently. Let’s start by choosing what matters most, what you’ll keep.”
“Oh, that’s easy – Dad’s letters,” Dot replied.
“Letters? What letters?”
“Well, from when your dad was away all that time.”
“What are you talking about? He was never away,” she said uneasily. “Oh!” she said and sat down hard on the nearest chair.
Dot looked up and seeing Joanne’s face, she leaned back on her heels. “Did you forget? Dad was away in India for ages when you were little, before your brothers were born. When he came back you didn’t remember him. You were afraid of him. It took ages until you were able to go to him. I think that’s why you never got along. And maybe why you’re so strong. Come here and look at this.”
Dot pulled out stacks of letters, some addressed to Joanne, some to Dot, all in her father’s hand. It seemed he had written at least once a day every day. They sat there reading and re-reading, pouring over those old memories, seeking new meaning.
Joanne had no idea her dad had written all these letters – and to her, not just her mom. The rest of the sorting was forgotten.
Joanne knew she was in trouble when the doorbell rang. Her brothers were there to start the moving, and there was still so much stuff everywhere.
Lynda Sturgeoff is a retired Ph.D. chemist, has finally found the light. After years of reading, writing, and editing technical reports she is now taking her writing into the creative arena. This is aided and abetted by Brian Henry's writing class. She is currently working on a piece of creative nonfiction, thus combining the two solitudes.
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