Wholly Living

A Time to Downsize

A time to tear down... – Ecclesiastes 3:3 by Rose McCormick Brandon

Mom is preparing to downsize. Really downsize. She’s going from a three-bedroom, full basement house she helped our father design and build, to a one-bedroom apartment. She’s lived in the house alone since Dad’s death twenty years ago. She’s ready to give it up, she says. To leave her award-winning perennial garden with its rose bushes, clematis, hydrangeas, phlox, all the plants she’s coddled for decades. Ready to say goodbye to the pots and pans, china and silver that she bought with care and that served countless family dinners. Goodbye to the large freezer full of meats, pies and hand-picked fruit.

Mom’s ready to part with a houseful of memories. Where brides rushed on marrying-morning, in and out of the bathrooms, driers blasting, irons pressing, the scent of bouquets permeating. Relatives dropping by with gifts. Grandmothers who only the day before cut the grass and baked rolls, now swayed in elegant gowns with hair just so. As my middle sister said of those wedding days, “Everyone was so happy.”

Goodbye to the Christmases when babies banged on highchair trays and wailed because they were off-schedule. He’s hungry. She’s tired. This one says he’s got to go. Dad who loved quietness tried to tune out the mayhem caused by his grandchildren and enjoy his turkey dinner. Twenty-four hours and they’ll all gone, he thought, but not until they’ve filled the living room with sleeping bags and a few over-stimulated children have cried themselves to sleep.

So long to aunts and uncles dropping in unannounced. Sitting down for dinner as if their arrival was expected. Extra plates and cutlery appear magically and always there’s enough food to go around. After dinner, one uncle always said, “This will do until I can get to somewhere where there’s food.” All these gentle and witty ones have either gone or downsized too.

Gone are the days when we ran down the street to our maternal grandparents’ home and up the street to visit our cousins. The street. Where kids by the dozen roamed. Post-war families did their part to replenish the earth. They successfully populated Annette Street and filled the schools of our paper town. We walked in crowds to school and played on teams in the evening. Our place, our name, on this street will soon be gone. Like so many other names, some lost from memory.

Oh the smell from that paper plant! On potent days, sulfur forced the windows shut. “That’s the smell of prosperity,” my father said. In other words, don’t complain, that odious aroma puts food on the table.

Time to dismantle. Remove a large collection of framed photos. And put them where? In a place where they’ll never be seen again? Empty the closets. Bridesmaid dresses, mother-of-the-bride gowns, clothing kept for sentimental reasons and because there was plenty of room to store it. There’s even a dress worn by a great aunt who died nearly forty years ago. Despite saving all these things, the house is neat and organized and easy to dismantle.

Open all the drawers. Only one dresser will go with Mom to her new place. No room for all the extra scarves, gloves, slippers and hats kept just in case someone might need them. All must go. There’s no keeping anything for a situation that won’t arise.

Will Mom take her sewing machine to the new place? Her machine purred on many late nights providing stylish dresses, serviceable overalls, curtains and anything that could be made from fabric. The machine is an extension of her personality. Everyone knows her for her ingenuity with it. If it doesn’t go with her, I fear she’ll lose an important part of her identity.

The large dining table with chairs enough for drop-ins. No room for it. Toys kept for visiting great-grandbabies, no place in Mom’s little apartment for those. When Mom asks if I want this or that, I see the disappointment in her eyes if I say no, so I say yes to things I don’t want or need. I’ll transport these items hundreds of miles to our house. And then what? I try unsuccessfully to interest my children in a few things. I wouldn’t mind a plant or two, like a rose bush, my son says. That’s a good idea. Even the plants will need a new home.

Downsizing should be easy. It doesn’t cost anything. Except for tears. And the emotion that drains the soul. Yet, the time has come. It was inevitable.

Today we face it head-on. And we can do that because the One who established time is moving us, one shuffle at a time, closer to our eternal home where we’ll never again downsize.


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