Cleaning Closets

I was cleaning out my closet this weekend – a long-overdue task and not something I did for fun – when I stumbled across some things that I didn’t know were in there, or had forgotten I’d put there. 

First I found a ceramic cup that my friend Jan has the mate to.  She and I bought them together to toast our new-found friendship nearly 12 years ago.  We met on AOL when they still had bulletin boards to post to.  We met on the Children’s Writers board and discovered we were both planning to attend a writing workshop in Wildacres, North Carolina.  We decided we would be roommates at the event, and we have been dear friends ever since.  The second summer that we attended the retreat, we drove into the nearest town.  It’s called Little Switzerland and it sits high on a mountain (okay, a mountain for North Carolina) and is full of adorable shops that feature goods by local artists.  That’s where we found the cups.  We called them our “ceremonial goblets” podnos, poháryand we drank a lot of wine out of them for the next two summers.  Jan now lives in Massachusetts (she lived in upstate New York when I met her), and we still talk regularly, though Wildacres no longer offers a children’s writers’ retreat.  She and I are thinking of starting our own.

I found a baby blanket that my great-grandmother quilted for me.  My great-grandmother lived to be 87 years old.  She came to America from Hungary at the turn of the last century.  She raised my grandmother and my great-aunts and uncle as a single mother during the early 1920s.  She taught me to crochet during my summer visits beginning when I was about eight.  The last few days of her life, I remember watching her as she sat in overstuffed chair in the hospital room,.. her eyesight devoured by cataracts, but her fingers nimbly working thread and hook to create a doily the size of a dinner plate.  She would mutter to herself and sing songs from the old country, not knowing I was sitting just 10 feet away.  Her loss left a hole in my heart that causes me to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of time on projects that involve crochet hooks or knitting needles.

Behind my cedar chest, which sits inside my closet, I found a book of quotes that I received as a gift for serving on a committee.  One of my favorite quotes from this book, called “Witty, Wicked, & Wise: A Book of Quotations About Women” would have to be this one from the great dancer Margot Fonteyn:

“Take your work seriously, but never yourself.”

On the very back of the upper shelf, I found a small box.  Inside was a necklace that I had bought at least seven years ago for my son to give his biological mother for Christmas.  I remembered the panic of racing through the house, trying desperately to find where I had stuck that little box, finally breaking down and heading to the store on Christmas eve before she came to pick him up for her visit.  He chose a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt for her, and I was scraping pennies out of the bottom of my purse to pay for it. 

We dashed home to wrap it and stuck a bow on the top. She arrived about 5 minutes after we finished, and immediately tore the paper off the gift.  Her voice was enthusiastic, but her face said it all.  She disliked the gift and she fully blamed me for that. 

My son hasn’t seen his biological mom in two years, though she has called him several times over the last few months to offer to take him to a movie or out to lunch.  Every time they’ve set plans, she cancels.  I asked him if he had talked to her recently, and he told me that he hadn’t heard from her in about two months.

I found a card that my husband had given me for our 5th anniversary.  It was a beautiful drawing of an incredibly sexy woman.  Inside he had written a lengthy note about his love for me, how happy was to have me in his life, and about how had so much optimism for our future together.  We’ve certainly had our share of difficult times since then, and have nearly called it quits on two occasions.  But here we are, 14 years together.  I showed him the card, and he smiled at me.  “Still feel that way?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said, grinning.  “I love you more now than I did then.”

One of the last things I found was another card.  It was a Father’s Day card, with a design on the font made of cut paper that looked like a little girl standing on her daddy’s feet.  On the outside it said “When does a girl stop needing her dad?” On the inside it read “I’ll let you know when I get there.” Much like the necklace, I put it on the shelf intending to give it, then couldn’t find it when I needed.

It was a hard discovery.  I had put my dad out of my mind for a few days.  Thinking about him just hurts and I am not completely ready to feel all that pain.  Some things about him still anger me greatly, not the least of which is the fact that he’s gone.  My dad was a complicated person.  Love him or hate him, if you knew him you had an opinion. 

It took me years and years to be at peace with who he was, and with what it meant to be his daughter.  He was a powerful and influential man who was used to getting his way.  He was truly funny, and loved a good joke (practical and otherwise).  But he had a quick and vicious temper, and a memory for those things done to him he felt were unjust or unfair.

Like all of us, he was a complicated human being, and his foibles and flaws were no better or worse than anyone else’s, but he was larger than life to most of those who knew him, so his successes seemed grander, and his mistakes seemed bigger, and if you lived in his shadow it was a tough place to be.

I sat on my closet floor when I found the card, and I cried for what seemed an hour. I rearranged the shelves so that it would be harder to lose things up there.  I put the card from my husband with the pile of pictures and mementos to be scrapbooked later.  The card for my dad I put on the back of the shelf.  Maybe the next time I clean my closet, it will make me smile instead of cry.


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