My mom and dad grew up in New York City, N.Y., during World War II. Meat and gas were rationed and a pound of sugar was like a pound of gold. As children of Depression era parents, their belief was “Save everything because you just never know when you might need it.”
Shortly after my parents married, my dad, who was in the Navy at the time, was stationed in San Diego, California. My parents truly believed they had landed in paradise. Once having tasted of the beauty and climate of San Diego, they couldn’t imagine going back to New York winters. They thought, “We’re going to save our whole lives to retire in a place like this. Why wait?” A couple of months later, they bought a house in La Jolla.
My parents bought the house I grew up in on a cul-de-sac in 1962 for $33,000. They borrowed on a life insurance policy to come up with a $4,000 down payment. The house was on a three-quarter acre and had a huge, sweeping backyard with a playground and a little sidewalk for trikes to scoot around.
They raised eight children in that house, and most of my childhood memories are embraced in that location. My parents have since sold that house, bought another smaller house, sold that house, moved into several different apartments and moved my dad into and out of an assisted living facility. Since my dad passed away last August, my mom is now moving again but this time, into a smaller place with just her stuff.
For the past three weeks, I have been helping her pack everything up. The first week into it, we were both very gung ho, eying the weekend for a gigantic garage sale. Only as the clock ticked closer to 9 p.m. on the Friday before the garage sale was to take place, we realized there was no way we were ready.
My mom was still holding on tightly to every pair of pants she owned, the skinny ones from the 1980s to the heavy ones from the 1990s that she might need down the road. She wasn’t ready to part with her office supplies, unopened ab-burner exercise chair and athletic equipment (did I mention she is 76 years old?) or her crock pots. We had to continue sorting.
We prepared all week and my dear friend Jamie helped us to organize the chaos. You know you have a true friend when that person helps you with anything that has to do with moving. Quite the garage sale expert, she gave us tips on where to place boxes and what prices we could get for different items.
Then we posted our ad in the garage sale section of Craigslist for 10 a.m. Saturday morning. We chose 10 a.m. so we could get organized in the morning before people came. Jamie told us to post it earlier but we didn't listen.
What amateurs! What fools we were! You never begin your garage sale at 10 a.m. because folks will knock on your door at 7:0 a.m.! And they did. They knocked. And then they waited as my sister and brother and I dragged box after box out to the front yard to be sold.
Once we placed everything down, they rushed us. Carloads of people came. “Do you have Tiffany? Silver? Jewelry?” they asked as they swept the tables. They were frantic. We couldn’t tell them the prices fast enough. They wanted everything...and I mean everything.
My mom stayed inside the whole time. She lost her hearing aids and looked for them for the first two hours of the sale, pacing this way and that. It was a great distraction from watching strangers pilfer her stuff.
Jamie ended up finding the hearing aids and mom ended up making a nice chunk of change. Only my mom didn’t have that elation most people do when they come into cash.
“Are you OK?” I asked when I found her sitting in a chair, surrounded by boxes, gazing at more of her belongings, enveloped in sadness. “They took my memories,” she said.
“No mom, they took your old sheets, Tupperware, ramekins, pantyhose and coffee cups. Your memories are still with you and they are with all of your children, too. They only took your junk.” That was as poetic as I could be at the moment but I think she got it.
Since the garage sale, my mom has let go of a lot more stuff. We moved her into the new place today and I’m sure she’ll get rid of even more. Perhaps without all of the boxes and material clutter, she’ll be able to see her memories a little more clearly.
Maryann Castronovo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.