Odd how the mind works. I had lunch with a woman friend I’ve known since my first, earliest days in Chicago, when I was still in my 20s and Norm and I were together. It got me thinking of Norm, as I do from time to time, and about everything that was involved in dealing with the death of someone close who had, in his last days, become increasingly dependent on me.
As executor of Norm’s will, it was my responsibility to dispose of his personal property. He had, at the time of his death, lived in the same condo 40 years, and therefore had 40 years of "things"...some quite valuable, others just the "things" one accumulates over the course of the years.
After having packed and given away all his clothes, which alone filled 13 garbage bags and 2 or 3 cardboard boxes, I moved on to the smaller, miscellaneous, hard-to-categorize items which are part and parcel of every life.
In the bookcase in his den I found a Day Planner for 2002, apparently never opened, and a like- new two-volume Funk &Wagnall's Dictionary. There was also a very nice brick, apparently used as a door stop. There were several shelves of gardening and horticulture books, some of them obviously quite expensive when purchased. The fact that Norm enjoyed plants and at one point went to school for some sort of degree in horticulture is not coincidental to the fact that Jonathan Quinlan, Dick Hardesty’s partner in my Dick Hardesty Mystery series, loves plants and has an associate's degree in horticulture.
Probably as a reflection of his interest in plants, various closets held four huge and expensive ceramic planters, along with at least a dozen others of varying sizes. There were walkers and seats for the shower and bathtub which have never been used, reflecting his declining health. One tub chair still had the price tag ($145) attached.
And yet what was I to do with them? A yard sale in a 35th floor condominium was a bit impractical, and even if it were practical, the time to price each item would have been unimaginable. So I called in an art appraiser to give me an idea of the worth of some of the more valuable pieces, and hoped he might direct me to a source of potential buyers. He did not. I then looked for estate buyers—those people who buy the entire contents of a home or apartment—to handle the rest. I found they pay only a tiny fraction of the value of what the items would bring if sold separately—literally pennies on the dollar. Some said they would take most of it but would charge for the privilege. Anything broken or worn, they refused to take, leaving it to me to have taken to the dumpsters on the building’s main floor.
And through it all, I never forget that ever single thing I was charged with disposing of was Norm's, not mine, and I couldn't help but feel guilty…as though I were treating it all as if it didn't really matter; as if it all were just a bunch of things. It's as if each item had existed in some sort of vacuum and had nothing to do with the real person who bought and enjoyed them.
In a drawer in his den, along with several decks of playing cards, a lint roller, the remote control for a long-gone television set, a couple rolls of film, six crystal balls of varying sizes apparently once part of a chandelier, a badly dog-chewed tennis ball, and a number of other things, most of which I was unable to identify, I came across Miss Piggy's nose. It was a perfectly good nose, made of pink rubber, with a thin elastic strap that fit over the back of the head to hold the nose in place. And I realized that it, like everything else in the drawer, had not simply appeared there out of nowhere. Norm put it there for whatever reason, and again like everything else there, it had at one time served some purpose, and meant enough to him to keep it.
But eventually I got rid of everything…things I knew he loved along with those to which he was probably totally neutral, and eventually my sense of guilt diminished. Things are just things.
But oh, Miss Piggy's nose....
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1)