Mother (waving her cigarette in circular pattern a la Bette Davis): So, what are you gonna do with all of this crap when I’m gone?
Me: What do you care? You’ll be six feet under over there in Holly Hill.
Mother: The hell I will be. I’m going to be cremated.
Me: So that’s just another pile of crap for me to cart around?
Mother: I ain’t heavy, I’m your mother.
The bell tolls at 6 a.m. and it’s time to haul my rig to to the Chair City to cart away… well, chairs. So many chairs. And teapots and bowls and Christopher Radko glass ornaments and rugs reeking of the tobacco that grew within chaw-spitting distance from the circa 1860 home that I grew up in, as my ancestors did before me.
I rent the largest truck that U-haul will let me without a commercial driver’s license and barrel the short distance to Salem Street. The day is overcast and so am I. I’m an only child and the last in my line and about to scrape away the final vestiges of material history making its mark on this land. My grandfather, a dentist who owned the first Model T in town, bought the house in the 1920s for his bride Corinna Auman. His first son Robert was killed in World War II and my father, Joe, inherited the antebellum farmhouse in the 1940s after both my grandparents died of war-torn broken hearts.
Me: That banquette hasn’t been moved in a 100 years.
Tracy (Mother’s caretaker of 15 years): I know. I’ve been cleaning it for about that long.
Me: So why do you think Mother had so many crystal champagne glasses? Was she entertaining Napoleon’s army on weekends when I wasn’t around?
Tracy: If she was she was serving them creamed corn. There must have been 30 cans of it in the pantry.
Me: That explains the firing squad of Dijon mustard lining up the other side of the pantry.
Tracy: What are you going to do with your grandmother’s piano?
Me: I don’t know. I kind of feel like it belongs with the house.
Tracy: I know. It’s perfect in its setting.
Me: You have no idea how many old ladies have come up to me over the years and told me that my grandmother taught them piano or played organ at their church.
Tracy: I’ve heard the stories.
Me (face cupped in hands): One lady yelled over at me through crowded bank lines, ‘Your grandmother had her hands on every organ within a 100 mile radius.’
The weather is like a lady in waiting behind a penumbra of petticoat clouds as we lug Windsor chairs, once-fine upholstery, Oriental rugs laden with spilled gin and menthol, boxes of heavy hardbacks and hoards of serving dishes and platters from house to ship. Indeed, it feels like a cargo hold of bounty that sparkles in its original palace but pales into the ordinary once strapped in the dank, dark bottom of a pirate vessel.
Me: This is creepy. I feel like I’m pillaging.
Tracy: You’re not. You’re moving on and living your life. Your mother wanted that for you.
Me: Are you sure she didn’t want me to live with her and take care of her until the end — ‘Grey Gardens’ style? That would have put you out of a job.
Tracy: No way. You both would have needed me.
The truck is packed tighter than a tin of kippers when Tracy and her young huns strap in to follow me — convoy style — to my Fisher Park home. We’ve managed cram a few lifetimes and then some into 24 feet of metal, rubber and steel.
Tracy: Where are they?
Me: They’re in the cracker box.
Tracy: No way.
Me: Well, temporarily. Those were actually her final wishes.
Tracy: Well I know she loved that tin Saltine box. I tried to get rid of it and she made me clean it up and told me it was her favorite ‘thing.’
Me: I know! I told her I was going to put her in it and she totally approved.
Tracy: That sounds like your mother. Unpretentious to the end.
Me: Let’s just hope she doesn’t haunt me. Fisher Park doesn’t need anymore ghosts.
Tracy: I think JoAnn will fit in nicely.