On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

I read an article earlier this week that said British scientists have found a large number of fossil slides collected by Charles Darwin and his peers more than 150 years ago. The slides were not catalogued properly and were found in an old wooden cabinet, shoved into a corner and forgotten.

I’ve become very familiar with things that have been shoved into a corner and forgotten in the last several years. In 2005 David’s job required us to move from Carrollton, Texas to Tampa, Florida. Mom and Dad’s mental and physical health had deteriorated to the point where we couldn’t leave them in Texas alone, so we took them to Florida with us. That involved moving and combining two separate households into one. Because the lead time was relatively short and David and I were still working full time, we hired a company to pack and move us. Unfortunately, we went with the lowest bidder, and that was not the wisest choice we ever made.

Mom and Dad’s house sold before ours, so that’s where the packing began. The movers started off well enough, but it soon became obvious they had underestimated the amount of stuff two people can cram into a two-bedroom house with a one-car garage. I heard quiet conversations about a shortage of packing material and boxes, and although I tried to keep a close eye on the proceedings, I was out-numbered 3 to 1, so it was hard. I also tried to make sure the boxes were clearly labeled as to the contents and the intended placement in the new surroundings, but I discovered later that I hadn’t succeeded very well in that endeavor either.

With their possessions packed and stored, Mom and Dad camped out with us for a couple of months until we were ready for phase two. When house #1 was being packed, I settled Mom and Dad in front of the TV at our house so they were out of the confusion. But when house #2 was being packed, there was no place for them to go. So in addition to supervising several packers with questionable skills, I corralled two elderly children and tried to keep the proceedings from degenerating into total chaos. I had no idea if I was successful or not, but at the appointed time, the house was empty and the moving truck was on its way.

We didn’t pay the crew to unpack, and since I’m the organized one in the family, I did most of it myself. It was an eye-opening experience in a lot of ways. First, it revealed how very incompetent the packing crew was. Items were poorly packed, illogically grouped, and improperly labeled. Boxes destined for the office ended up in the kitchen, Robinson boxes ended up in Brendle rooms and vice versa, and some boxes were shoved into corners of the garage and didn’t surface until 6 years later when we moved back to Texas.

Second, it revealed how far along the slippery slope of dementia Mom and Dad really were. Even the best moving crews pack what’s there. If the trash can is full, they pack it trash and all, and the kitchen junk drawer is packed as is, including all the used twisties, broken rubber bands, dried out corks, and outdated coupons. This apparently described a lot of Mom and Dad’s kitchen cabinets and drawers. I found dozens of jar lids without jars and jars without lids, none of which matched. I found spices that were older than I am and recipes clipped from newspapers that were probably printed on the Gutenberg Press. Desk drawers were interesting, too. There were credit cards that had never been verified, carefully filed junk mail, unfiled bank statements, and sandwich bags. There were lots of zipper-style sandwich bags with an odd assortment of contents: a couple of cotton balls, an empty throat lozenge tin, an empty thread spool, and two playing cards; a tape cassette, some hair clips, a pair of knee highs with runs, and a broken pencil.

Among the chaos, I found some treasures, too. I found a couple of old albums with yellow, brittle pages filled with black and white photos held in place by old-fashioned adhesive corners. I found boxes and envelopes of miscellaneous pictures along with report cards, notes from teachers, a few games and toys, a few mementos of a past life. Some of the albums had captions under the pictures and a few of the photos had names and dates on the back, but like Darwin’s slides, most were not catalogued. Unlike Darwin, Mom and Dad were still with me when I made my discoveries, but the memories of who the people in the pictures were and why the relics were important were long gone.

When I visit with my aunt, she sometimes pulls out old pictures and stories from the past to share with me. I’ve seen and heard a lot of it before, but there’s usually something new to add to the incomplete understanding I have of those who came before me. It makes me wonder what I might have stored in a cabinet and shoved into a corner that might be important to someone someday. I guess that’s one reason I write, to try and share some of my joys and sorrows, my mistakes and lessons learned, the discoveries that might make a difference. Maybe one day when someone I love goes through the things I’ve left behind, they’ll pull out a treasure and say, Oh, I remember the story about this. What about you? What’s in the cabinet in your corner, and who do you need to share it with?

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