Throwing out decades of memories

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

Main image by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

6 February 2022

Our house has long needed a lick of paint, new staining and varnish on wooden floors and stairs, mouldy patches on bathroom ceilings scraped off and refreshed with white paint, new lights/lighting, new curtains sewn so that they match better with whatever is around…

And that is just the small, aesthetic jobs.

The bigger jobs include revamping and repainting the kitchen, laying down new floorboards here and there, re-whatevering the garden path and patio, re-seeding the garden, putting in a new gate….

I am confident that the bigger jobs won’t get done, but a number of the aesthetic jobs are underway and have been for a month.

It’s brutal.

I hate it.

I hate needing to admit that the house that Mike built is no longer decorated appropriately; that what might formerly be called a “lived-in”-look has become “scruffy”.

I hate having to make paint colour decisions without Mike. Or indeed without Megan – though she has helped a lot.

I hate dealing with – and getting defensive about – the subtle mockery from workmen as regards the ways in which Mike cut corners to make things work in this ancient and unusual farmhouse home.

I hate not knowing exactly where the water comes into the house from outside. Or what we might do to stop the toilet cisterns furring up with the area’s hard water.

I hate that it falls on me to do all of this. (I realise as I write this how adept I have become at mowing the lawn and weeding the flower beds. Tasks I was floored by in the early months. Jobs a friend had to come and help me with. New skills I have gained in the last five years.).

But that is nothing compared with the emotional effort of:

Emptying the contents of one room after another, then hall and landing shelves, into banana boxes, sorting and sifting a little as I go, deciding what to “chuck now” without even thinking about it, and what to sort through “later”. Should “later” ever come.

Lugging decades’-worth of books and novels to the dump in IKEA or supermarket bags because there is no-one here to read them anymore, and there really isn’t space to keep everything.

Putting Julia’s oboe music and instrument to one side so that one day I really might, perhaps, maybe, take it along to the next village where her former teacher still teaches (oh – I so want to keep the oboe. But truly, I know it will get better use from someone else).

Throwing out the CDs. And I mean hundreds of them. Not only do we no longer have a functioning CD-player – other than in the car. But most of them were backed up to iTunes about ten years ago. And even I have got rid of iTunes and listen to Spotify now. But like a Kindle is to a book case, so is Spotify to racks of records or CDs. The strategy for finding something special to listen to, or read, is totally different. I know I will miss my books and CDs.

The hardestest part, though, was, is, and will be, figuring out what to do with decades of letters, journals, photo albums, photos and cards.

Each one of us had a “treasure box”. Mike and I had two.

Mine contain things like my 1984, 1985 and 1986 Inter-rail cards.

Old British passports with their corners cut off.

Tickets from my first few concerts at Forest National in Brussels. Eurythmics. Tina Turner, supported by Bryan Adams.

And 30 years’ worth of Valentine’s cards, birthday cards and letters to and from Mike. Letters I wrote when I went to work in the US for four months, not quite two years into our relationship. Or cards from Australia and New Zealand when we had been together about four years. It was so hard for him to not hold me back, and yet he did not even try. He knew that as a 22-year old then 24-year old, I needed to go and explore the world. We didn’t have internet. We didn’t have mobile phones. Just the odd phone call and post-card. He was very trusting. And exceedingly generous. I learned a lot from that back then, and now, as I see all of the cards I wrote him, and that he kept, it was not easy.

And then there are all of the photo albums. Some of them painstakingly and lovingly put together by my mother – for each of the kids as they were born, then more generically in the following years. Some of them put together by me and Mike. And then when life got too busy, reams of photos quickly stuffed, barely sorted, into shoe boxes.

Image by Kirk Cameron on Unsplash

A quick flick through is all I can manage, from a time and a hurting heart point of view.

Such cute kids. Such happy kids. Such little minxes.

Such happy times. Such big adventures.

No sign in a single photo of what was to come.

I will throw out books and CDs. Decades worth of them. It makes me want to vomit. I close my eyes as I tip bag after bag into the skips.

I won’t throw out the photos. I won’t throw out the letters. I won’t throw out the cards. I won’t throw out journals.

These precious memories – so many already forgotten – they need a place to reside. At least for a while longer. In case I might find the strength to go back and re-live some of them.

For they are evidence. Proof. Of a life without ashes.

About Emma Pearson

8 thoughts on “Throwing out decades of memories

  1. Darling Emma. Such hard things to do. Such deeply held memories forced to the surface. I know how hard sifting is, I’m still doing it and struggling. Love you ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  2. Life is a collection…stuff, memories, junk, odds and sods….things that are not thrown away just in case and things that are kept on purpose. All those things meant something for some reason for someone. Lots of them get superceded by lots of others and some lose their importance over time. It’s so hard to figure which are which. But the special collection is in your heart and your head, your voice, your ears and eyes not on a shelf or in a cupboard.

  3. I share in your quandary and the emotions that go with it. Since June of 2017 I’ve been “downsizing” from 41 years of marriage. My husband was a professor who loved biblical chronology. His 20 boxes of books finally found a home, though I wonder if they were taken out of pity because few people read scholarly tomes anymore.

    His model railroad empire was a work of art that one collector was eager to procure. But it sickened me to see it leave our basement.

    He loved landscaping and designed a beautiful yard. I hate that I can’t keep up with what he built. It sickens me to watch the pathways and planting beds neglected. You can’t even hire people to do what needs doing so you do what you can and leave the rest go with tears.

    And 41 years of letters, photo albums and cards? I will never part with them. You said it perfectly: “These precious memories need a place to reside…they are evidence.” Of a once in a lifetime love.

    Thank you for sharing and capturing the essence of loss and going forward. You have a new follower.

    1. thank you Jan
      yes – it is not just “evidence” or proof, but also all of the memories and conversations – images, pictures etc associated with those passions.
      Life – boxed up. So hard.

  4. Been there, done that…yes it is brutal. Still a work in progress after the purge, sale of home and move. Boxes I moved sit unopened with treasures and photos. Each fall I attempt to sort, organize and scan photos for my kids, thinking what a great Christmas gift that would be for them, only to abandon that project as I sit in tears, sorting and looking at that other life I had. I do make progress tho. As we all will.
    Best to us all in going forward, no way to go back except in memories and dreams.

    1. thank you Cathy
      I so easily picture you, all good intentions ending in sitting in tears
      So hard

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