My mother was the original “pack rat.” I refer to her as the “Mrs. Winchester of Storage” because, like the owner of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, my mother kept the hammers swinging as she convinced my father to install yet another shelf, cupboard or cabinet and then proceeded to fill it with completely useless “stuff”1 that she couldn’t bear to part with because “it might come in handy some day.”
When she no longer remembered that she had a house or knew who we were, my sister and I were left to dispose of the rarefied treasures she accumulated during the 43 years she resided in the home I now own and occupy with my family. Those gems included the candle from my first birthday cake that I found in a kitchen cupboard (for the record, that party took place in late 1957), old Toni home permanent rods and even some solution (highly toxic, I’m sure), many varieties of curlers, the clips and barrettes we used in our hair when we were growing up, the retainer that had not been in my mouth since approximately 1971, my baby teeth that were still wrapped in gauze and lying in the top drawer of her dresser, used paper decorations from cakes eaten 40 years ago, several bags of used wrapping paper and bows . . . Believe it or not, she even collected straws from various restaurants — washed them and stored them in a plastic McDonald’s Hamburglar cup, along with oodles of napkins and other paper goods.
As if that weren’t bad enough, she tucked away the receipt and operating instructions for every appliance — no matter how large or small — she ever owned in her life, as well as every piece of furniture in the house. Every time she purchased anything, she wrote down not just the date of purchase, but the actual price she paid. Note the example above. She noted that she purchased the refrigerator from Breuner’s in 1979, taking care to write down the exact purchase price.2 She also noted that the defroster timer control was repaired in 1985, along with the cost.There was a whole bag of these kinds of documents in a drawer . . . my sister and I sorted through all of the scraps of paper in wonderment, one of us occasionally tossing a receipt or brochure at the other. For instance, I laughingly told her, “Hey, here’s the receipt for the tables you took home last week for your family room. Bought at 99 Furniture in 1969 . . . better file this in one of the drawers!” For the record, I don’t think 99 Furniture has been in business since at least 1979.
In my mother’s closet, tags were strung on hangers with the original price crossed out and, in her handwriting, the sale price she paid for the garment noted. She performed the same ritual with household supplies. For instance, soap, paper towels, laundry detergent, etc. all bore the notations — placed over the price tag in her handwriting.I can’t even imagine expending the time or energy for such record-keeping. But it was important to her, apparently.
This eccentricity was one of the scars my mother bore, permanently imprinted upon the psyche of an amazingly intelligent, talented woman who graduated from high school in 1934 — the height of the Depression — and dreamed of going to college, but could not fulfill that dream. Instead, she ended up working as a combination housekeeper, cook, and babysitter until she married my father and spent the rest of her productive, but eccentric life caring for her family, noting each little material milestone along the way, leaving the bits and pieces as legacies for her daughters and grandsons.
- The word “stuff” has a special connotation for me because my first Guest Author taught me a great deal about worldly belongings, our preoccupation and attachment to them, and need to ultimately release ourselves from them. It is, of course, easier said than done.
- I don’t know why since the receipt is still tucked inside that folder.