Monday, August 23, 2010

Madness Monday: Remembering Proust and Mother

I am home again.  The garden is a mess, my desk is a disaster, the house - well, we're way beyond needing a little straightening or sprucing up.  Think gutted bathrooms and a dumpster to collect what I am determined to toss out.  Not heirlooms or family documents.  But endless, endless stuff.  If it was ugly when it was in my great-grandfather's house why is it in my basement?  How did I end up with five sets of dishes and evening gowns I will never wear?  Why do I have two drawers full of my mother's old purses?

Because of me.  I maintain I am the least sentimental person I know.  I routinely ignore or forget birthdays and anniversaries, my own included.   Never kept baby books or locks of hair.  No wedding pictures on display - though I may make an exception for the latest bride and groom.  I am cynical and acerbic.

And, I am delusional.  I'm a family historian, for heaven's sake!  It is virtually impossible to let go of what belonged to my family - especially Mother.  If she loved it it is here (unless I got lucky and my sister took it).  These aren't things of any value - no Chanel purses or bone china.   They were simply hers - or things she kept of those she loved.

Funny story about Mother - and me.  She read.  I read.  We read.  Vision problems have severely restricted my reading and I have managed over the years since she died to give away hundreds, if not thousands, of books.  Yet every shelf and many other surfaces are still piled high with books - including a two volume edition of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.

In one of my last conversations with Mother (and the irony of this has not escaped me) she literally begged me to keep the Proust and read it since she had not been able to finish it.  Clutched hand, tears and all.  I offered to cremate it with her, but she was beyond humor at that point.  So here it sits - her bookmark still there on page 561 of Within a Budding Grove.  I adored her, but I will never be able to read it.  I've thought of tearing out leaves and making origami cranes or paper chains to decorate our Christmas tree.  I might decoupage a dresser or table.  My children assure me that it will be cremated with me if I don't manage to push it out the door before I die.  We will probably go up in smoke together, which is fine with me.  Good company.  But the rest of it - time to let go.


  1. Susan, we are soul sisters! I actually laughed out loud when I read the first part of your post.

    I ended up with all the family china (five sets, including my own), and I use to sing with an opera group, hense a closet full of gowns I will never fit into again. Never. My mother was a voracious reader, more Dick Francis than Marcel Proust though. I don't know about you but I keep what I keep to maintain a connection to the past. My mom and dad are gone, and all I have are my memories. The china, the gowns and the other things I've kept remind me of happy times.

    Someone a few years back said something that has helped me somewhat, only keep the stuff you really love. If you don't love something get rid of it.

    Well I started reading with a laugh and ended up with a tear in my eye. Great post. I like the decoupage idea by the way. I think that's the way to go...

  2. Thanks so much, Cynthia. There's some comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my madness. Did I mention that she (and of course I) love, love, love opera? Soul sisters indeed.

    And you're right of course. It's not the coffee mug of hers that I use in the morning or her magnifying glass that are so frustrating me. It's those things that she loved but I don't that have me teetering on the brink. So out they go.

  3. I can't start the morning without my vitamin from her lovely cloisonne juice glass, and that ghastly red and black enamel ashtray graces the patio table next to Rick's chair -- you ought to pitch anything that you don't truly love -- you don't want to saddle your kids with them.

  4. I remembered this post from a while back and wanted to ask you if you ever watch the Metropolitan Opera live broadcasts at your local movie theater? A friend and I go quite a bit during the year. If you haven't gone you should. It makes for a lovely afternoon. Just a tip from one opera lover to another!

  5. Susan,
    This is a masterpiece -- you write so well and your sense of humor comes through. Good to see you writing again.


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