Sorting and Sifting

My television watching is fairly limited to a smattering of news and information stations, and the occasional replay of some great old movie, like The Quiet Man, The Hunt for Red October, or The Fugitive. I can’t  say that the whole reality TV show genre is bad, it’s just not something I ever got into. Recently, the promos for a few Arts and Entertainment network shows caught my eye: Billy the Exterminator, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Intervention and Hoarders. I think I can be forgiven for assuming these promos were a joke.

Once I realized these are actual, produced television shows, I looked at the A and E website and read about the shows. Still haven’t been able to bring myself to actually watch one of them – yet, anyway. The one that really grabbed my attention, though, is Hoarders.

I grew up with a mother who was the opposite extreme of a hoarder. She was able to refold a fitted sheet back into its original packaging. She put labels in the linen closet: single fitted, single flat double fitted, and double flat. The ketchup bottle in the refrigerator never, ever had a ring of spilled ketchup around the neck of the bottle or any excess in the cap. Mother’s house was one where there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. If it didn’t belong, it was gone.

Problem was, after my father died suddenly when he was only 51, leaving two sons, 9 and 15, and a daughter, 12, (me), a virtual colony of Hoarders took up residence in Mother’s head. By the time I graduated from high school, these colonists spoke to her regularly and often. They told her that someone might try and peek into the house, so she needed to put safety pins in the drapes from ceiling to floor every night. They told her people were living up in the attic and spying on her. They told her teenage girls were writing graffiti on our house. They taught her to hoard negative, unstable thoughts.

And they told her untrue stories about her own children. Ah, it was a rough time, and I have my piano teacher and several school teachers to thank for helping me secure scholarships to a university several hundred miles away from home. I started college the summer after graduating from high school. Buck and I are considering selling our home in Pensacola to return to the Asheville, North Carolina area. Just talking about it has me going through drawers and closets, with an eye to the staged perfection necessary when one puts a home on the market — especially today’s market.

If you read my articles regularly, you know by now that I have kept journals for years. Journals help us recognize patterns in our thoughts, and occasionally bring valuable insights.

The following is an excerpt from a journal during a time when Buck and I lived for part of the year in North Carolina and part of the year in Pensacola. . .

A page from my journal: October, 2003

When Buck and I leave the North Carolina mountains to return to northwest Florida’s pine woods for the winter, I usually throw a nightgown and my favorite kitchen knife in a bag, along with canvas satchels of books and sheet music I can’t live without, plus a few herb plants that can make the transition. But this time, I’m cleaning closets before we go. Memories make it slow work. I am not a pack rat, except when it comes to books, magazines and journals, but neither am I one who follows the dictates of “closet planners” who decree that “if you haven’t worn a garment in more than a year, be ruthless: get rid of it.”

I could tell you that I haven’t written much in the last day or so because I have been on an archaeological dig. True, in a way. In the same way that physical or emotional scars are sometimes a badge of courage and survival, proudly worn, so I have respect for some of my old clothes.

From one of the boxes, I pulled out a pair of pants with the left knee ripped. It happened on that scary July 4, 2001 when I climbed to the top of the Shining Rocks (near Cold Mountain) and then fell on my face on the way down, bashing my chin on the rocks, severely contusing ribs, tearing a rotator cuff, gouging holes in my left leg, jamming a wrist and generally scaring hell out of my hiking buddies. The six of us finally walked out of the woods about 8 that night. No, those pants are part of my history. They stay. I need to look at them from time to time to remind myself not to sing, dance, talk and run while hiking on a steep trail with loose rocks in the rain.

There’s a stupid blue sweatshirt, the proceeds of some corporate staff meeting Buck went to years ago. It says: “The situation is hopeless, but not serious.” It just bugs me somehow. What does it mean? Why can’t I get it? Maybe someday I will. It stays.

Those “dress for success” silk blouses and tailored skirts, souvenirs of a past life, will go to the local shelter for abused women. I like to think of someone wearing one of those outfits to a job interview, perhaps a new day in a new life. Pollyanna-ish, maybe, but I can dream.

The jungle green string bikini. Probably ought to put it in a glass display case for posterity. Takes me right back to sunsets on Pensacola Bay, watching pelicans feeding from the fly bridge of our old boat, the Almond Joy. That boat had a small cuddy cabin and a strong anchor.

The battered t-shirts and shorts are just what I need for gardening. They all stay, ready to go to work. And that old button jar. Don’t we all have one? Most of the garments to which those buttons belong have long since been recycled in some form or fashion.

But I can’t let go of them. They have stories to tell, and a peculiar charm.

Cleaning closets. It’s a process, not a project: a sorting and sifting to identify the useful or meaningful, and let the rest go.

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