by Linda Rodriguez
It's 10 days until Christmas—days when people are shopping and buying presents to give to people who don't really need any more stuff to cram into their overcrowded homes. I have informed my family that I absolutely forbid them to give me any stuff this Christmas. It's not that I've turned into Scrooge or the Grinch this year. It's just that I'm in the throes of downsizing out of a big old house with three full stories plus attics and two-car garage, all packed with the stuff of 42 years of living and raising kids, plus the inherited belongings of several generations before us.
I have to keep driving past the small yellow house where we will move once we have cleared out this big old money pit and sold it to our oldest son, who wants to make the repairs we can't afford and rent it out. Seeing the cheerful little casita to which we're eventually moving, which has no stairs and everything brand-new and working just the way it's supposed to—plumbing, wiring, cooling and heating, flooring, windows, appliances—fortifies my will and sends me back to work on my own version of the Augean stables.
I have sorted out the too-numerous sets of fine stemware and china, taking boxes of it to my daughter, my oldest son and his fiancé, and my sister. Youngest son has driven up to the city to help me pack boxes and gone back with his car packed to the gills. He'll return this weekend to help and take more back with him. I'm on a first-name basis with the driver for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, since I've been on his pick-up route every week for the last three and he sees I'm scheduled for weekly pick-ups well into 2017.
The biggest problems are the books and papers. This is the house of a writer/editor/teacher and a publisher/editor/scholar. We are drowning in thousands of books and pounds of papers. My solution, as I try to move methodically through the house one room at a time, one floor at a time, has been to start with the books and papers and carry on that sorting and discarding process every day on a continuous basis while packing up the things in each room which must go. Ideally, by the time I've finished all rooms on all floors, plus the finished basement, two attics, and the garage, I will also have finished the books and papers. (Please don't laugh at me like that. Allow me my illusions. They're all I have to keep me going.)
I have tried to make lists of what to keep and what to give to family and what to give away or discard, but I keep finding new things that are not on any of those lists and having to make decisions all over again. This leads to odd philosophical questions, such as, How can I never have anything appropriate to wear when I have so many clothes?, or What kind of misspent life results in three huge boxes of cups with the insignia of universities, conferences, and bookstores?, or How is it that we have four of those huge scholarly collections of Shakespeare's plays and poems with essays and footnotes that are designed for 300-level university Shakespeare classes?, or Where did all of these old shoes come from?
I am determined to make it easy on us. I'm doing a first pass through each of the downstairs and upstairs rooms, packing up and moving out everything that we know we won't take with us, thus, no hard emotional decisions right off the bat, just hard labor. Then, we will have to tackle the difficult choices—Which of these wedding gifts from dear friends, many of whom are now gone, will we give away? and Which of the teapots, many hand-painted or handmade, that my youngest son started giving me every year from the age of six will I part with? and Which pieces of furniture from my husband's grandparents and great-grandparents will we give up, surely not the china cabinet and rocking chairs that his great-grandfather made himself?
Surprisingly, I have found that each box I move out of the house leaves me feeling more positive and energetic about this massive undertaking. I realize that may change when the time comes to make those tougher decisions, on teapots, for example, but right now, I'm feeling great satisfaction every time I close and tape a box and set it to go to one of the kids or my sister or to set out for my pal, the Big Brothers, Big Sisters driver. So wish me luck.
Linda Rodriguez's book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular workshop. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in June, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film. Visit her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.