I’m doing this #52essays2107 challenge. This is the first one.
I am 41 years old and I have not yet learned that the dead no longer inhabit the objects they leave behind. My fatherâ€
The one remnant of him that lives is his voice, but it is locked away somewhere in a backpack full of reel to reel tapes I canâ€
I come by this tendency honestly. My grandmother carried her checks in a holder with a picture of her dead father in a photo sleeve on the outside. My mother carries it now. I carry my grandmotherâ€
My grandmother never got a diagnosis as such but was likely a hoarder in the clinical sense of the word, especially with pieces of paper. The maxim that you should handle no piece of mail more than once was lost on her. Most of them got handled eight or ten times, or, more likely, piled in a pile to be dealt with later. I still remember her sitting at her dining room table, extended to its full length with leaves, sifting through pile after pile of paper looking for her property tax bill, which she hadnâ€
On one of the last weekends we all gathered as a family at her house, she set my cousin Jennifer to alphabetizing her catalogs. Some were more than a decade oldâ€”the LL Bean Christmas catalog from 1994 was among them, as I recall. Jennifer looked at the catalogs, looked at me, and said, â€œLaura, could you do me a favor? Itâ€
We moved my grandmother out of her house eventually and into a one-bedroom apartment at a retirement place, but the problem continued. I used to say that getting her a printer was the worst decision we ever made, though I contributed to it, buying her a multifunction printer/coper/scanner exactly like mine so I could help her troubleshoot it over the phone. She printed out recipes and articles and movie reviews and the prices of books she owned as collected by AbeBooks and Powell’s and bookfinder.com. She was convinced her first editions would net us a fortune and always believed the highest price listed was the one weâ€
It was maddening, and yet I loved her. I loved her even when, when visiting, I could not find a place to sit down and had to move treacherous piles of paper from the sofa to the floor in order to have a place to sleep. I loved her even though sheâ€
I suppose if I were to cling to my grandmother for real, I would keep all those scraps of paperâ€”the movie reviews (she was always hoping to improve the selections for the movies at her retirement home), the book prices, the articles, the magazine clippings, the ancient catalogs, the piles and piles of Sunday New York Times crosswords waiting for their final clues. And indeed, sometimes when I find one, I am tempted, especially if it has her handwriting on it, writing like no one else’s.
But for all that I loved her, I am trying not to become her. So I let them go. But I keep the rocks.