While attempting some spring-cleaning a few months back, I came to the frightening realization that I was turning into my mother: I was a hoarder of life’s minutia. Every cabinet, drawer, and closet were overstuffed with items that had clearly outlived their usefulness or purpose. Living in one place for 30 years can do that to a home.
I adored my mother and normally would be proud to be “just like her,” but not in this circumstance. My ability to throw things away just couldn’t be as weak as hers. After clearing out 52 years of our family’s life to prepare my childhood home to be put on the market, I vowed I’d never do that to my children.
I was going to have to suck it up and clear the junk out.
To prepare for the daunting task, I headed to the refrigerator for a little liquid courage. A nice glass of Rombauer Chardonnay always seems to have a calming effect on me when I’m faced with any overwhelming task.
But, as I went to open the fridge, I was confronted with even more unorganized clutter. Looking at the subzero door, I noticed how every inch was covered with hundreds of snapshots from a time gone by. It was as if the Kodak Fairy placed them there to chronicle the Madden-Haugh family for the world to see.
Scattered without any rhyme or reason were pictures of my children as angel-faced babies, overlapped with photos of them as young adults in bright costumes and thickly painted faces. Giggling at their silliness, I found them smiling back at me. In the upper right-hand corner, Christmas photos dating back 15 years perched with three little girls in matching red dresses, and my son looking awfully similar to Little Lord Fauntleroy. And lining the bottom, I saw pictures of four graduations, Junior and Senior Proms, athletic poses with the appropriate gear, all intertwined with snapshots of family parties.
Standing back, I stared and inhaled our family’s history of happy times. I enjoyed the view more than I can say, but I was on a mission to purge and slowly unpeeled a life filled with memories.
“Sorry kids,” I mumbled to myself. “But I don’t want you to have to do this later. One day, you’ll thank me.”
An hour later, my task was complete. All the celluloid recollections were now organized by date and subject matter and stored away. A blank refrigerator door stared back as perfect as the day it was installed.
“Wow, I forgot how pretty this maple panel was,” I said, rubbing my hand over the soft, rich grain of wood. “I should have done this long ago.”
For the next couple of days, every time I walked into the kitchen, I had the sick feeling that my children had gone missing. Reaching in to grab the milk, I was sure I’d find their sweet faces on the carton, screaming, “Mom, what did you do with us?” Then it occurred to me, that while the refrigerator may have housed life-sustaining nutrients, it was the outside that offered my true nourishment: a perfectly balanced menu of love, happiness, and family triumph. Like with everyone, we have had our fair share of painful times, but together we survived.
I feel like our whole family history has been wiped clean, I thought to myself, skimming my fingers over the areas where the five of us once beamed. For any guest coming into our home, to know anything about our life together, all they had to do was look at my refrigerator for the story to be told. As if we never existed in the first place.
Now, it’s not like I didn’t have oodles of photographs all over my house and walls, for, in my mind, my children are my finest pieces of artwork. I love to proudly display them in every room, corner, and on all bookshelves. Yet, I couldn’t get over the feeling of sadness and loss with just a few removed.
“That does it! I’m putting them all back.”
And with deliberation and determination, out came the tape and up went the smudged, somewhat tattered, faded and sticky pictures, plus a few new ones, along with a promise to keep.
“Kids, I vow to clean the attic and bowels of our well lived in home. I’ll throw away things that have no use, meaning, or purpose. I’ll not leave you with a disaster later in life, but those pictures are here to stay!”
My refrigerator door remains our pictorial legacy. One day, I hope to have grandchildren who will look into the faces of their mothers or father, aunts or uncle before opening the heavy door to grab something to eat. Words tell one story, but the happy faces that line the edges and fill the center tell another: this is a home where people loved and respected on another and happiness filled the souls
I have so few pictures of my dad as a child. How I wish I could add his to my mother’s to complete the circle. How do you keep your family history alive?