And For Something a Little Different
June 24th, 2008
How do you measure a life? The musical “Rent” asks, How do you measure, measure a year? “In daylight, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, In inches, in miles in laughter in strife.” But that’s only a year. T.S. Elliot says in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Proofrock that “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”. This is one of my favorite beautifully depressing poems about aging, how one spends their life, and the consequences of a lifetime of disappointment. I’m not sure either of these examples work in real life.
We are selling the house my mother lived in for 55 years. It was where, as children and teens, we gathered to smoke cigarettes, get together for parties, and just to hang out. It was about three blocks from school so it was where we had lunch and recovered from romantic trauma. It was a very important part of shaping the person I was because it was also the place my Dad could always be found. Mom is living in Seattle and not strong enough to come back to the east so keeping and maintaining this memory filled historic site, doesn’t make much sense.
Yesterday I spent the day meeting with people who wanted to buy or sell the contents of the house. I am not sure what I expected. There are so many valuable, or at least treasured items. There are the family pictures and momento’s. I knew the dealers wouldn’t want those, so when they said it was not of interest to them, I was not suurpirsed. But there are at least 5 bedroom sets, 7 sets of dishes-and I mean complete sets. Some are white with gold trim, some are white with silver trim. Those cannot be used in the microwave because the trim is really metal. Then there are special service for corn, and of course, the English china with the turkey pattern for Thanksgiving-does that make any sense? There are the everyday dishes from the apartment in Florida, the house in Boonton, and Aunt Sophie’s apartment before she married Mac. There are the kosher dishes for when Aunt Peppy visited and the old glass Passover plates. There are dozens of sets of pots and pans and don’t even ask about the glassware. On the list you should include 6 mattresses, lot’s of clothes, at least 50 tablecloths, hundreds of towels and sheets. Just FYI, I have already given away at least 15 large black garbage bags full of clothing and shoes. Oye! and the chatcka’s-don’t get me started.
The question is, should we sell everything to an antique dealer who will clean out the house for $500, or leave the house a mess and let him take what he wants for $1000. Or should we have a house sale and pay a woman $800 to tag, mark and sell what she can and what she can’t sell we donate to I don’t know who - but I assume someone who needs it. It is difficult to make the decision, not because we are going to make a ton of money, but because we are not. Basically, the money will be the same, about $700 to $1000, depending on the economy and how receptive people are to yard sales/auctions.
After the meetings I started to think about all the things I have accumulated over the years. The first thing I thought was, I would never leave my kids with this kind of clean-up, but my second thought was, after so much life how could all her worldly possession have a price tag of about $600. And I don’t think it’s any different for any of us. We spend our lives collecting extraneous objects and when we are in the twighlight of our years, the value of all those things diminishes considerably. My mom doesn’t really care about things anymore, (although she was a real fashion plate and her clothes remain remarkable even by today’s standards.) She’s very comfortable in her studio apartment with warm duds, the attention of my brother, sister-in-law, and niece, a few wonderful aides and three meals a day which she enjoys. Based on her situation, I guess we do not measure a lifetime by the things we collect.
Artists like David can measure how they spent their lives by the work they produced. Public servants can measure if they affected change or had an impact that made other people’s lives better. Some people measure their lives by the children to whom they gave birth and their accomplishments. Coffee spoons are out but I think I would like to measure my life like “Rent” in daylights, sunsets, rainstorms, and additionally, bike rides, books on tapes listened to, books, essays, or blobs/blogs written, mentoring young people, my kids, laughter brought to others and friendships made and retained. It’s just something to think about the next time you say, “I have to own that”. We're Just Sayin...