Cleaning House

My parents have a problem with hoarding information. They aren’t very attached to clothing, property, or other forms of collecting, but they love papers. My sister says that I somehow am immune to this Williamson hoarding gene, but I think it’s just a recessive generational trait. Whenever my grandmother, Viola, would visit our house, she would spend at least a day going through innumerable boxes in the basement or garage filled with papers of various shapes and sizes: newspapers, catalogues, receipts, computer printouts, plans, notes, brainstorms, brochures, maps, and any other print material. Some of it would always prove important; there might be a letter one of us kids had written while we were at camp, a school project, a warrantee. But mostly it was junk. Invitations to events long past, outdated periodicals now found online, news articles that no one bothered to read.

For some reason, when my parents get busy this is the first thing to go. With some families, it’s doing laundry; for others, they don’t find the time to cook meals at home; for us, it’s the papers.

Dad is busy trying to retire, checking his pension accounts almost daily; Mom is innundated with new responsibilies and challenges as the Acting Director of the library. Me, I’m just here, waiting to take off. In royal tern mode, I’m in the preening stage. I’ve done my Nova Scotia fattening up, headed down the East Coast flyway to another waystation, and am now doing last minute preparation for the big flight. My technical “responsibilities,” if one can really call them that, are getting vaccinated on Friday, packing, and prepping the Vespa for hibernation. Oh, and I’ve got to remember not to die from my yellow fever shot.

So I have offered up my services as a housekeeper. Mopping, dusting, vacuuming, and most importantly of all, weeding. Today was supposed to be a window day, but the morning’s drizzle nixed that plan. Instead, I found that I could not wheel the vacuum into a necessary corner due to three boxes full of miscellaneous papers. When I came home in August I did a blitz of the garage, emptying three trash bags full of recycling. I had hoped that might be the end of my sorting days this year. Apparently not. With a sigh, I plopped down on the carpet and began making piles.

Much went to the recycling bin, of course, but these tasks sometimes produce little pearls of excitement. These are today’s favorites, from the potpourri of junk: seed catalogs from 2001, my 8th grade soccer roster…in triplicate, Mom’s job evaluations from the past 10 years, highway maps of Madrid, minutes from a 2002 Tidewater Rosarian meeting, and the motherlode: a bovine ranching manual written in ….wait for it…Portuguese! NB: no one in the household speaks or has ever spoken Portuguese.

Thank you, thank you. I know, it’s a talent.

I may not be able to make decisions or communicate my emotions to my parents, but by god I can sort through a box of papers. It’s nice to be able to do something for the family.

Now, if I could just find that missing box of my winter clothes, everything would be just hunky-dory.

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