Monday, September 22, 2008

The Big Dig

It's Monday morning and my whole body aches and burns. My "workout" this past golden, crisp Fall weekend was not a bracing bikeride or run through the woods, but rather the down and dirty job of cleaning out our small, pokey basement en famille. The family that digs, cleans, finds and sorts together, sweats and stays together. Trust me.

We are Jewish, so with the New Year and Day of Atonement imminent, we want to make a fresh start, we want to be better people. On a more practical note, we want to host our friends and family, and our sole guest room is this debacle of a wasteland, down, down, down in the basement. How could we possibly put anyone in this cluttered subterranean cave as our "guest." They would never return for another visit.

The big dig seemed endless, our basement bottomless. It was hard to conceive of the amount of junk that we managed to accumulate over eight years in our Montreal home. Countless school workbooks and art projects of our two children, Tobias and Rosamond, still small when we moved in, now a teen and a preteen. Teetering stacks of broken toys, dolls missing limbs, tracks without trains, squashed VHS cases and orphan videos. Remember Barney and sharing, those eerie hallucinatory Teletubbies, or my personal favorites: Mr. Rogers and The Wiggles?

We filled industrial-sized black shiny trash bags with the detritus of our lives that we could no longer justify saving. Into our van the bags went, stacked to the ceiling, with trip after trip to the recycling center in our neighborhood, where our junk could be reused and reconfigured into something useful.

Amidst the rubbish as my British-born husband Michael likes to call anything that's trash or nonesense, material or abstract, we excavated found treasures: an orphan pearl and gold earring, an early courtship present from Michael (thankfully, I still have its mate). A little bag of rough garnets my brothers and I collected on a family holiday in the country where the roads were paved not only with gravel but with semi-precious claret-colored stones, rough-hewn genuine garnets. Early journals of my son, Tobias, now a blossoming writer in his own right. Cherished family photographs and a family tree, lovingly assembled by our daughter, Rosy, and researched with frantic calls to much-loved Zaidehs and Bobbehs who are getting on in years, who may not be around much longer.

Today, I am tired, but the sweat and tears were worth it.

The big dig is not unlike the hard work I do each day, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after- month, and year-after-year as a writer, a novelist in particular. I must take out the shovel, dig and dig, get dirty with life and imagination, to come up with the treasures, the jewels. It is not all inspiration, by any means, but plenty of perspiration, work-women-like, showing up each day, going to my room of one's own, no matter how I feel, having faith that if I continue to dig, the treasures, the jewels, will glimmer in the earth, waiting to be found.


Leo said...

The midden of a family's archeological past.

We go through these deep cleans about every two years. It's amazing how much stuff we stuff-consuming North Americans accumulate. It just piles up and when we do the deep clean, you wonder if you single-handily kept the Canadian economy up and running smoothly.

What I want is a place to put all that crap that is now crap. A sort of crap depot that people without crap, or who need a certain type of crap, and go and find what they're looking for.

Imagine it - out with Reno Depot, in with Crap Depot. Aisles and aisles of crap piled to the ceiling, with store associates well versed in all the intricacies of variations of crap.

"I want . . ."

"No problem, ma'am. Aisle 17 is where you'll find it"

"Ooohhh, thank you! I'm so glad you have that!"

Crap Depot - We have What You Need. Guaranteed.

Leo said...

Digging, Remembering

Digging is, as you so ably point out, also about remembering.

In visiting my father this past week, several things have become startlingly clear.

He hasn't moved any of my Mother's personal effects from the house. She died in 2006. Her clothes still fill the closet in the main bedroom, and he still diligently goes to a neighbouring bedroom to get his shirts and pants.

In the bedroom that I am staying in, my mother's garden club name tag still rests on the gardening apron where it was last put, like some kind of shrine. A copy of The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell - complete with the price tag of 50 cents - is still in the bookshelf. She loved reading Durrell.

In the bathroom that became her own, pill bottles are in the medicine cabinet with expiry dates back to 2003. When I offered to sort them and bring them to the Shoppers Drug Mart drug recycling program, my father said no, leave them there. I might need them. For what, I wondered?

The third bedroom, where my mother slept in the last two years of her life, her sewing machine is still on the table, hooded and ready to go should anyone have a hankering to hem some pants, or repair a hole in a sock.

Even though my father resides here all by himself, he hasn't claimed the house as his. It is still their house, not his house. He still maintains her garden, through the assistance of a gardener he has hired. And who knows what is stored downstairs. I dare not look, lest I find the toys of my youth or some other remnant of my mother.

It is odd what older people do. And since I don't see my father very often, given that he is in BC and I am in Quebec, it's all the more striking when I do.