Going through my parent’s house over the last few months has taken ages. They’d lived there since 1963 until my father died at the end of 2007. Mum had subsequently lived there alone until she needed to go into a nursing home in 2013. Now that they’re both gone, the task of sorting through the house and the memories that are attached to it has been left to me and my brother.
Before we started, we’d made a plan. We both like plans – we’re good at those. First pass – sort through the house and throw out the obvious rubbish, such as tins of food that were long past their use by date and the like. Second pass – work out what we wanted to keep for ourselves, give away to relatives and friends or sell. Final pass – everything that didn’t find a new home would be thrown away. We estimated that it was going to take us until last Christmas. As I write, we’re still not quite at the end of the first pass.
I had no idea how much stuff was in the house and quite how much I’d be affected by sorting through it. It’s not the items of furniture, ornaments or even the mountains of clothes that we’ve considered that has been the biggest surprise. It isn’t even dad’s photographs and cine film or mum’s paintings (I’d prepared myself for dealing with those). Little packets of old birthday, Christmas and get well cards, letters, school reports (theirs, not mine!) have been harder to cope with.
But hardest of all, at least for me, has been finding piles of old ticket stubs and travel receipts for holidays and other events long past. Some of them probably hadn’t been looked at in 50 years before I stumbled across them.
I suppose that they were there at all shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I do the same thing. I know that hidden away in my sock drawer, the cupboard above the bed and the attic there are little piles of my old tickets and receipts waiting to be found once I’m no longer around to care. Sometimes, when I’m looking for something else, I’ll come across a pile of tickets from (say) a holiday I took ten or twenty years ago and I’ll spend a few minutes reflecting happily on the event. And crying of course, naturally.
This weekend I found the folders of ticket stubs, hotel brochures and letters to the Swiss National Bank about Italian petrol coupons from the holiday to Italy that my father and his best friend took in 1961. It was wonderful to look at them alongside the photographs he took (here’s a few of the first photographs he took on that holiday). Doing that also made me cry, of course.
I also found a collection of receipts and notes from a holiday we took together as a family in Scotland when I was 15. I haven’t looked at these yet, because I’m finding it too difficult. I obviously wasn’t even alive at the time of the Italy trip – but I remember the Scottish holiday vividly.
One day soon, with the photographs that we both took on that holiday, I’ll sit down with a glass of whisky and look at all those receipts and notes. I think I know what the result will be.