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Life as a Scot in California

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Clear up after Yourself

Posted by berkeleyscot on October 4, 2007

Mum died in January 2000 and Dad died in April 2002.
They had lived for the over fifty years that they been married in the same house that Dad grew up in. His parents had also lived with them, as was the way of traditional fishing families, so when I went back to Buckie to sell the house, I had to dispose of the possessions of several people.
Dad and his parents had lived in the house since 1924. They didn’t believe in disposing of anything! I even had to throw out a bottle of Milton (antiseptic) that had belonged to Granny and she had died in 1968.
How sad it was to arrive at the house and not have Dad there to welcome us. I wanted to say the house was empty but that was not so! Every surface was covered with stuff, even piles of the local newspaper that Dad used to save for me to read whenever I visited.
There was no time for reading, or even much reflection, on this, my last visit to the house.
I almost didn’t have a house to sell. The fifty year old gas fire in the kitchen had been shut off and a sign, “DANGER! DO NOT USE!” had been attached. The Estate Agent, who had visited the house earlier, noticed a strong smell of gas and called the gas company. In all it’s fifty years that fire had never been serviced!
I felt very guilty for living so far away, but knowing how stubbornly independent he was, I doubt he’d have let me help in anyway.
I remember, whenever I visited him, I’d say, “Let’s clear out a cupboard, make a start on living without so much clutter.” He would humour me, promise to take the bits and pieces to the charity shop, but everything we took out was back in the drawer on my next visit.
He could never face the task and cheerfully said that I’d come and do it for him, but only AFTER he’d gone! He chose to ignore the fact of my physical difficulty: I don’t drive, I can’t carry things downstairs while holding on to a hand rail, I can’t stand for too long and I have not been able to kneel down for over 20 years.
Richard came to help me, but he was chairing a conference a week later and we didn’t have the luxury of time to make choices of what do with other people’s memories and things that were special to them.
When I lived in Cambridge, England, I worked in the Archives Centre, of Churchill College. There were the private papers of Sir Winston Churchill, including his weekly laundry lists.
I teased Dad that the piles of papers covering the chairs would be equally worthy of archival attention.
But, while Sir Winston had secretaries to take care of his stuff, Dad only had me.
I had to throw away his life.

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