When Nancy called and told us she had found a condo she wanted to buy, we were thrilled for her. Secretly, we had all worried about her alone in the big house on the hill, steep driveway to shovel in the winter, closing it down during her long travels, simply the maintenance of a older, larger home was difficult.
Before I go any further, I want it on the record that at 75, Nancy is strong and vibrant and can hike circles around people much younger than her. She has been in the same exercise group for 25 years. She is active and alert, a member of a plein-air painting group that has painted on the mountainsides of Denali. She is an avid traveler as well, sometimes gone for months. With that in mind, we hoped that owning a condo would free her up for even more adventures.
We had no idea what to expect when we showed up Wednesday night. Nancy had hired movers and was already settled into her condo with the possessions from the house that she wanted. I imagined a quick box up of left-behind, unwanted items and then a vigorous clean-up. Done. Fly home Monday.
My heart sank a little when we pulled up in the driveway and the outside of the house was cluttered with sleds, skiis, yard chairs, garden tools, lawn mowers, everything that had been pulled from the side storage shed to make room for rummage sale items. My heart sunk even lower when we opened the door and we walked inside. This was not going to be a quick pack up. When we looked in the extra large detached garage and workshop? My heart hit the floor.
The fact of the matter was, Nancy and Thor had inherited her parent’s household when they moved to The Solvang Retirement Home, and they had inherited Grandma Pat’s household when she passed away, and they had their own household, so this was a big job and it was simply a lot of stuff. And everything had a story.
Even though a lot of the “stuff” was moved to the condo, there was still going to be a lot left over. And those lawn mowers and yard furniture? Condo living meant she did not need them.
Where to start? Scott tackled the garage and I suggested starting in the back office of the house and working my way out. I started on the full wall book shelf, lined with books from floor to ceiling. After calling Title Wave, the used book store I learned the parameters for donations. Everything need to be “themed.” Garden and home books together. Travel books in another box. Spirituality books. Easy enough.
Per Nancy’s instructions, all Alaskana in one corner for the Alaskana people to look through, Russian materials for the Russians friends to look through, Art supplies in one pile, art books in another. Estate sale items – paintings and antique books labeled, and things for the art gallery to appraise in another. Things Nancy felt emotionally connected to? In a pile for the Condo, or her storage unit.
Teacher books? I encouraged Nancy to throw those away. I promised her that young teachers did not want Whole Language books from the 80/90s, that “Education was not there anymore,” and, “When the pendulum swings back there, it will be on-line with new ‘Experts.'” So those went into the u-haul for the dump.
In hindsight, I felt bad because most things needed Nancy to look at them before decisions could be made. She would be in the garage, working with Scott and then come into the house for a drink of water and I would sit her down and have her sort a pile of papers I had come across, and after awhile Scott would come in and say, “Mom, I have something I would like you to look at in the garage.” She ran back and forth for two whole days. She must have been exhausted.
It was time for Scott to tackle the loft in the garage, and he needed my help. “There’s been some nesting up here,” Scott informed me as he handed down a box from the loft, the thought made my skin prickle.
SOME nesting? Generations of squirrels had lived up there, making warm winter nests from pallets of printing paper left over from the “Susitna Sentinel” days in the 70’s. I piled paper and broken bits of things in the U-haul for the dump, Nancy examining every box and bent picture frame. At one point Scott handed down a box of ashtrays and oily rags. I had a vision of Scott’s dad out here in his “Man-Cave” with friends, smoking and putting out cigars in those ashtrays, polishing his guns with those rags.
“This one is gross Nancy, I am going to just dump it straight into the U-haul. It has dirty ashtrays and filthy rags and I think we can just toss it.”
She insisted on looking through it, but she promised none of the ashtrays would go to the rummage sale. As she she pulled out trays and rags she discovered bags of money in the bottom of the box. I learned then she was right, we had to look through… Every. Single. Box.
On Saturday Scott’s brother showed up to help, by this time we had been at it for two and half days and it was getting easier for Nancy to say “toss it.” With both brothers working, and Svend’s wife Sarah at the condo fixing us gourmet meals each night, or bringing us pizza during the day, it was almost festive. We were exhausted, but we had such a great time visiting. There is something “bonding” about working collaboratively on a big job like that. And I have not even had an opportunity to describe how wonderful Nancy’s condo is!
When Scott and I went up to Anchorage we had pinky promised that we would return with no more than a banker’s box of items. It was mostly at my insistence. We brought and extra suitcase and we thought we were good. Scott teased me that I kept putting stuff aside, Nancy wanted us to go through everything prior to the rummage sale and estate items were sold. I was SURE the girls wanted nothing, but they all put in their requests via text messages.
With that said, here is the weekend by the numbers:
One pallet filled with paintings, antique books and furniture en route to Svend’s home in Bainbridge Island.
Two suitcases of treasures home to Ketchikan with Scott and Beth.
Three shelves, bought at Home depot and assembled by Beth and Scott for Nancy’s storage unit.
Four U-haul loads – two to the dump, one to the rummage sale, one to the storage unit.
Five piles of items in “Scott’s Room” to be appraised by experts.
Six Rubbermaid tubs of slides from Nancy’s parents travels during the 50’s and 60’s to be gone through in the storage unit.
Seven delicious meals, including dinner with Matt and Becky, a dinner after seeing my nephew’s new baby twins, two dinners by Sarah Jane and the obligatory burger at the Arctic Roadrunner.
Eight of the largest boxes U-haul sells, filled with paintings and treasures, valuable things like ivory, fragile things like statues made by Scott’s grandfather that are irreplaceable, shipped slow boat, on it’s way to Ketchikan.
Four Thousand pounds of trash taken to the dump – yep. Two tons.
Those are the numbers. Sunday night, as Scott locked the door and we were leaving, knowing the next time we were in Anchorage, someone else would be living here, we tried to feel sad, we really did. “Did you want to measure your height on the doorway one more time?”
“I am taking that with me,” Replied Nancy. (The doorway, really?)
“Ok, then, Are there any dogs buried in your yard you want to say good-bye to?” Scott and Svend looked at me like I was crazy.
“Well, goodbye old house,” I mumbled, we just sat back in our seats and drove away, not even compelled to take one last look. We were too tired.