I dropped out of sight for a while. Life has a way of overwhelming us sometimes and the only way out seems to be tackling one task at a time, ignoring the rest. Piece by piece the puzzle clarifies, takes shape, forms and resolves, if only one can keep putting one foot before the other, doggedly completing one more task towards the goal.
In resolving Mother’s estate, I’ve come to the point where I have to sell the house. Otto, with much protest, finally left Mother’s house. Although he was to be out by September 30th, his affairs still are encumbering various rooms. His son, my nephew Ron, helped him finally take his accumulated goods stored in the garage yesterday – October 27th. He left behind all the things he doesn’t want – debris really.
I got someone from our family’s church to come take possession of anything amongst these that they thought they might sell at the thrift shop and that was helpful to me, Otto and the thrift store, so that was a good thing. I’m annoyed that there are many of his things still left to dispose of – dismantled IKEA furniture that he cannot use in his new apartment, boxes and boxes of empty wine bottles for his unrealized wine-making projects; tools no longer useful because they have been left to rust; unspeakable debris – dust, spider webs, scattered screws, badminton rackets and squash rackets, camping lanterns, sleeping bags with burn holes in them; lids to baking dishes; useless kitchen ware that has sat outside, boxed in the garage for the ten years he lived with Mother and me.
There is more, but I won’t keep you enthralled with the grime of it.
What is driving me now is the Realtor. I took two weeks to interview Realtors and found an excellent one to sell the house. He’s holding his first open house for other Realtors on this coming Thursday. From start to finish, that gave me ten days.
My dear lovely Heather and her dauntless husband complete with pick-up truck and a U-haul trailer came from Sechelt to help me, with some vested interest. Heather was taking away a load of furniture – Mother’s bedroom suite, some teak arm chairs; the 1950’s teak stereo set, a marvel of Danish craftsmanship; a mattress and box spring; boxes of Lavender Rose china dinnerware; familial linens both for table and bed; and assorted treasures.
Dauntless husband is a real treasure. He was able to lift massively heavy things with engineering tricks – rolling them down stairs and across lawn and sidewalks out of the house and to the truck with a dolly, leveraging the weight of the furniture with two-by-four planks on to the truck, sliding things on mats and rugs. We two sisters helped, but without his manly packing tricks and muscle, I would never have been done clearing out the house. It saved me having to select a mover and find storage (mind boggled as I am, this is one of my daunting thoughts). Now the work was done and over with. To me it was an incredible feat and I am bottomlessly thankful for his generosity of time, brawn and expertise.
Heather and I sifted through the small things. The storage shelves held things stored for forty years and more. There were the crewel stitched, tulip patterned drapes that had graced the dining room in our house in Vancouver which we left in 1956. There were other fabric treasure, surely not useful, of similar vintage. There were large pieces of beautiful burlap that were intended for some project or other that had stayed in the wooden steamer trunk, unfaded by time by virtue of their forty year exclusion from air and light. What had Mother intended for these? All for naught.
A forty year list would be too long for here – and boring. But there were treasures. In a large paper bag, four feet by two, there was a cotton sheet wrapping something precious. Marilyn Munroe would have died to have this dress. All frothy pink netting on the outer layer, it was strapless with a white netting froth of trim along the top of the bustier shape. It was form fitting to the waist with whale-boning inside. These were covered over with a fine black trim that descended in arrows to ten inches below the waist as the skirt flaired out into a crinoline supported fan shape. She must have looked just like a princess, a movie star. At five foot eight in her glory days, she must have been so thin to wear this dress – a size ten or so, I guessed. Who had made it for her? It was all hand stitched on the inside. A marvel of couture construction.
Heather also found a tin box that had once held shortbread, with a picture of King Edward VIII’s coronation memorialized on it. His reign was so short, it must be rare. It contained precious family letters which are a real treasure.
Heather and Dauntless Husband left on Friday morning. They had medical appointments to keep in Sechelt. They had both worked like slaves and for long hours. I was so profoundly thankful for their help and yet my heart sunk at the remainder to be done.
On Friday after they left, I hopped in the car and headed back to the house. I had made an arrangement with Sheri at the Thrift to go straight there first, so she would know that I was back and so that she could come pick up another batch of goods.
On arrival, I could not help myself but look through the Thrift to see if there was anything I wanted. I found an original painting, badly framed, water damaged on the framing, waiting to be rescued. While there I met a Mexican lady who was helping with the work. I asked her what had brought her to Canada.
She was wife of a visiting professor, a researcher in Engineering. He had Immigration status on an exchange basis, but she, with her Masters in Business Administration, was not permitted to work and she was here at the Thrift, looking for some contacts and useful volunteer work to keep her busy. Knowing that I was cleaning out the house, she offered to come and help me with the rest.
I was sorely tempted to have help, but I declined. Cleaning was hardly the kind of work to ask a visiting professor’s wife and a professional in her own right to do and I said this to her. She protested.
“I only live on the corner from your house, ” she pleaded. “I have nothing to do. It fills up my time. I would be happy to help and I know what a big task it is. I would love to. Besides, if you are throwing away furniture, there are a few things I could use. Please let me.”
I thought about Mother and Father, the year they went to Columbus Ohio for Dad to finish his Doctorate degree. Had someone welcomed him in with simple kindnesses. But Mother had been studying. She would not have been at wit’s end to entertain her active mind with simply anything.
I remembered my four months in Montpellier, accompanying Franc on a new job, sitting day after day alone in a studio apartment that we could ill afford. I never once was invited into another person’s house. I never spoke in a friendly manner to any French person even though I could speak French fluently by that time. Though I had my amusements – letter writing, painting, reading, walking – I almost went crazy with loneliness, the want of a friendly chat. I went walking in stores, talking to store clerks just to hear a human voice in the long hours that Franc was away working. I would have been so grateful for the opportunity to meet another person, to have conversation, to exist outside of myself.
And so I did. I let her come, and we made our arrangements. She was not free on this day, but she would come tomorrow.
We met on Saturday. She was efficiency itself. She organized me and kept me going. I was her business project for the day. As we worked, she told me a bit about herself. Her family had come in September. They were living in a basement suite. “Oh, the rent is so high, for just this” she exclaimed. We are working on a Mexican professor’s salary, not a Canadian one.”
But she had furnished it quickly with furniture from the Salvation Army and the Thrift store. People who knew them had given them things. The only thing she missed was having access to a laundry.
“Well then, bring your laundry. We have a laundry here and you can use it while we work. That will save you at least one trip.”
We worked away. We cleaned, room by room. Not the heavy cleaning – a company is going to do that. They will come and spit polish the place for the showing. While I sorted, she took a broom and swept up the dust balls. We gathered every last thing in the kitchen. She washed the dishes; packed up some remaining glassware for the Thrift.
When her laundry was dry, she called on her husband to come take it away along with the few things she had decided to take . There was a book case, the shipping to my house would have been more expensive than buying a new one here; a simple side table in plastic laminate; a glass vase; a few cooking vessels and utensils.
Miguel and his son Miguel packed away their new possessions and came back to lift and pack all the boxes I was bringing back to my home to sort and dispose of. I didn’t have to pack the car, this one more time, and I was grateful.
When that was done, Miguel-father said “Come eat with us!”
“Oh no!” I demurred, ” I should probably head off for home.” I was thinking that they did not have much.
“Where are you going to eat lunch?” asked Diana pointedly. She sounded like my mother though she looked ten years or more younger than I. “Come with us.”
What’s stopping you? Where have you to go? Who is waiting for you? Would you not have loved some simple company when you were travelling, living in a foreign country, especially company of the locals who would help you understand their country and their ways?
And so I went. Miguel the father departed immediately to make the lunch. Diana and I wrapped up our day’s work to give him time to set his cooking pot going.
Half an hour later, we arrived at their basement suite, just at the corner of the lane. It was a one bedroom basement suite with the only windows at the top 18 inches of the North wall.
“See?” she said excitedly to me,” here is the book case a friend gave to me.” That was me. “And we love the lamp” It was casting a warm glow into the room.
“And the vase.” It already had a few colourful autumn twigs in it. I subtracted these few items from the room and thought “How barren this room must have looked without them. How those few things had brought some home-like grace to it”, and I was glad for them.
We sat down to a delicious repast of Basa filets stewed in a butter sauce laced with a chemist’s brew of kitchen spices, marinated fresh tomatos, fluffy rice and a dinner roll. We held hands for a blessing of the food and the gracious kindness of the Lord in providing new friendships. We shared a glass of dry red wine and toasted our acquaintance. The table fell silent as we ate, then with a bit of cherry ice cream sitting on our plates before us, we chatted for another two hours non-stop as if we had always known each other, as if we had been friends since Methusalem.
It was four in the afternoon when I left. The day had been brilliant in the morning. It had become lightly overcast with high thin clouds above. As I drove out the number one highway towards Maple Ridge, the autumn oranges were tempered in a blue haze, blending the landscape as if in a soft pastel drawing. Mile after mile, kilometer after kilometer, the verges of the highway were dressed in crystal clear images that David Lean would have waited months for, had he been filming. My heart was full of happiness.
Then at the Pitt River Bridge, I saw the trees on the river’s edge, just recently turned to lace with the last fall of leaves silhouetted in black against the pale peach sunset and the pale, slate blue sky. They were reflecting in a perfectly calm river. It took my breath away. I could barely look at the road for wanting to fix the image in my brain, and I was driving!
Just after crossing the bridge, there was Mount Baker completely visible and clear, pink and blue in the dusky light. The wonder of the Pitt River Bridge trees was blasted out of my memory as I drank in this new, beautiful image.
Then I was past it and onto the Old Dewdney Trunk Road, the last stretch to home, through the Pitt Meadows farm lands. Looming before me was the series of barn red outbuildings – including a traditional shaped barn – stretching like a panoramic photo – underscored with a thick swath of brilliant red blueberry fields. That same dusky pink sky sat behind it all.
I was contented. I thought nothing could be better than these things I had just seen, but as I approached the red outbuildings, Mount Baker reappeared and made a background to the red barns. Oh, Lordy! And no place to stop to take a photo!
I was home not long after. What a glorious day, for one that had started off with such misgivings.
How fortunate am I! Praise the Lord! And I have a new family of friends.