Yesterday I found two of my mother’s paintings. I’ve been searching for them since April and was concerned I’d perhaps accidentally thrown them out during one of my leap-year cleaning frenzies. They were in the back of a closet, rolled up in a mailing tube and wrapped in a signed poster of the Rolling Stones. Why my mom’s naïf renditions of a time gone by kept such strange company, I have no idea.
This is has been pretty much the only moment of real joy in this move; the process, otherwise, has been overwhelming and at time plainly sad.
There is a contract on my house, contingent on the young couple who are buying it obtaining financing. My real estate agent is confident there should be no problems. Now that this is sale is almost a reality, the attendant actualities loom large. The place has to be empty within a month.
The French have a verb, débarrasser, which means ‘getting rid of,’ but also has overtones of satisfaction at a job well done. You might débarrasser yourself of old clothing that no longer fit, of a waffle iron that has ceased working, or a set of mismatched dishes. There’s a certain contentment attached to the disposal. You have made room for replacements that will bring a measure of happiness. You’re doing something useful.
I can’t say I have felt this as I slog through decades of faded belongings, mementos and paperwork. The last can be measured in pounds: the legal depositions that accompany divorce and death, the contested wills, the letters and cards from friends noting my father’s passing. His accidental death made the papers, and I found clippings of the stories that appeared in The Post. I remember that the morning after he died, I fled the house through the back door to avoid a television crew. I don’t remember clipping the stories.
In a moment of lucidity some weeks before the accident, he had told me he wanted to be cremated, and that I was to take his ashes to France and scatter them next to my mother’s in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. My father was a man who hated fusses and bureaucracies. I know he never would have made this request had he known the unbelievable number of forms that required filling.
The state of Virginia, the Federal government, the airlines, the French and American customs authorities, the Mairie de Paris and the cemetery all required documents in triplicates signed by the proper authority. The French demanded notarized translations of American official papers. The Americans demanded his passport, his Social Security card, and a copy of the cremation certificate. I kept copies of all these documents and yesterday, guiltily, I discarded them. There was no relief involved.
Today the débarrassement was more banal. I purged my DVDs, keeping only such masterpieces as Amélie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and La Vie en Rose, as well as Mondo Cane and Strictly Ballroom. That was much easier.