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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

The too hard basket

The season was upon us, the time was right and the decision made. The great migration was about to occur. In other words, we were moving. We were downsizing, packing up the family home and heading to the coast. The essential part of this blog is the packing part!

Those of you who have read What Remains would know that the packing up of the protagonist’s home is the catalyst for her choices in the story. Through her sifting, revisiting and discovery of long forgotten or never known items, she uncovers an extraordinary truth. So whether life imitates art, or art life, I commenced my own laborious exploration into our stored life. One might ask did I uncover a similarly great truth. Yes – I discovered that we are in fact descended from hoarders and that we were hell bent on living out our genetic inheritance. Where had all this stuff come from?

I thought I lived a fairly ordered life but recently discovered that we were simply more wily in our stowing methodology. Our hoard was stacked in boxes and filing cabinets and cleverly heaped out of sight in dark corners of garages and cupboards and under the stairs. Unseen by the human eye allowed it all to slip so conveniently from the mind. Until…the migration!

The boxes that I’d packed when both sets of parents died, along with our own forgotten, dusty cache of accumulated stuff that we’d thought was so important lay waiting for this moment to be revealed. We skirted the issue for several preparatory months as the house was readied for sale. Easy things like our absent children’s sporting gear, abandoned clothes and childhood treasures were easily boxed and labelled. They would wait patiently until some point in the future when their owners would return to claim them. Easy too were the hundreds of lecture notes, pulp fiction, unworn and unwearable clothes and my husband’s pretty impressive tie collection to divest ourselves of. But the tomb of boxes remained until the last…and I mean the very last. The house sold and an early settlement required action.

I can’t list the items in the collection; too vast, too diverse but suffice to say when I read the telegram sent to my parents congratulating them on my birth I knew we were in for the long haul. In amongst the many things were the banal (tax returns dating back to the employee records from the Ark)!, hundreds of National Geographic, cards from 6 decades of celebrations, fifty, maybe sixty cake tins, school reports and school books dating from when nuns smacked you for messy work and the inevitable treasures.

And it was those treasures, those sentimental and sensory experiences that could not be boxed, turfed or recorded anywhere other than the heart. I scanned and photographed some things but had to realise that I could not capture my mother’s favourite scent in a digital rending or photograph the feeling of holding the letter that contained the few, but beautifully penned words my father wrote when my own children were born. The process slowed for tears and reflections, longing and nostalgic renderings of events rarely recalled.

How was it all to be let go? What to do with those things that could  neither stay nor go?

One returns to one’s pathology. Find a box, pack it carefully, label it if you can, leave a note and stow it away out of sight somewhere in the new house. When we are gone and our children and their families must divest themselves of our part of the family hoard they will wonder why we kept this stuff. And ask: “Who are these unnamed people in the photographs? They might be cross with us for leaving them with the task of one more disposal. I hope the note will help: ‘This was the too hard basket.”

Perhaps being one more generation removed from telegrams and black and white photos will render the sentiment and the need to hang on void, and the memories mute. Or perhaps, they will simply add their own ‘unreleasables’ to the hoard and the too hard basket will grow a little bigger, a little dustier and perhaps just a little bit more mysterious.

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