Clean Sweep

Last month I tidied the attic/guest room once again to prepare for visiting guests. This time instead of the usual job, where I gather everything and stuff it into the cupboard under the eaves, I gathered everything, took it down to the second floor, and crammed it all into my office. Armload after armload. It took a couple of days.

And this time it isn’t going back. The showdown is now, today. It’s me or my stuff. Thirty-three years we’ve been living in this house, maybe thirty-four, during which time we’ve raised a child and showered him with toys, taken up and dropped a number of hobbies, inherited more stuff, written a number of books and saved all the notes and the foul matter (as the publishers call the old galleys and whatnot), and put everything we didn’t know what to do with in the attic. Harold has been more disciplined about getting rid of things than I have. If I didn’t watch him he would throw out my stuff.

But I can do this. Death cleaning, the Swedes call it.

I hardly sew anymore, and yet I have bushels of yard goods. I’m thinking I’ll make maybe two more projects plus some things for the church.  Saturday is flea market day at St. Andrew’s. If you’re looking for interesting yard goods you will find them there.  Also yarn. Maybe even knitting needles. So that’s one class of stuff I’m getting rid of: craft supplies. The end of an era, folks.

Still, I’m going to hang on to the art materials.  I might paint some little pictures, maybe make another puppet or two. And I can’t bring myself to get rid of the toys, We do have visiting children from time to time.

But the papers–!

The wretched papers. For the old bank records I’m going to crank up the shredder, even though those banks no longer exist under those names and the account numbers on the charge accounts were changed every six months due to somebody hacking the bank’s databases. Shred the old bank records! Shred the old gas bills!

Probably I won’t shred the old galleys. I’m too vain for that. Besides, my first editor, Ray Roberts of Little Brown, told me to keep that stuff. He thought I would eventually be famous. In the old days one’s editor got excited about one’s work and prospects.

letters

The most interesting item I found while clearing out the attic shelves was a box of papers that I can’t recall ever seeing before labeled, in my handwriting, “Kate’s Grandparents’ Things.” I opened it up to discover a jumble of folded papers, some of them dating back to the early nineteenth century. Deeds, grants of land, grocery bills. How elegant was the handwriting of the ancestors, with their quill pens and oak gall ink.

And more recent things as well. A program from my high school graduation. A book of half-used ration coupons with my grandmother’s name on it. Then, mixed up among these antique documents, the letters my father wrote to my mother the year before they were married. In the depth of the Great Depression the Sullivan Machinery Company sent him all over the east coast selling rock drills and drill bits. He was sad to be so far away from his dearest, my mother. He wrote all the time, every letter on the stationery of a different hotel. It would break your heart. He wasn’t sure that Sullivan would even give him time off to attend his own wedding. But they did, luckily, and it took place, and here I am after their long life together, happy ever after, cleaning my office.