Helpers, Hiking, and a Road Trip
From the end of October, I felt the mounting pressure of what was to be done with 33 years of accumulated household items, especially if I was going to be back in Austria by some time in January, necessary if I wanted to keep my visa there active. …Family dispersed to their various homes after the funeral; the last guest, Aunt Lois (right) from New Zealand, stayed on a week to be company for me and to help get started on projects. We talked a lot, took walks, and began the first tentative steps to sorting.
For my birthday, falling that week, I got up early and headed off to the mountains for some quiet and good exercise – a brisk walk up to Charlie’s Bunion. A chilly day with bright blue skies, strange ice flakes littering the path, and almost-bare trees sporting berries that reminded me of New Zealand pohutukawa blooms. In the evening, my aunts Lois and Pat took me out for dinner – really a wonderful time talking and sharing a meal together.
(While hiking is on my mind, I should mention a lovely day with friend Meghan – shuffling through oak leaves, staring up at towering trees, gobbling lunch at the base of a freezing waterfall, and traversing a washed-out bridge. Technically, the trail to Ramsey Cascades was closed due to a “tree hazard,” but we decided that sounded like absolute hogwash and went anyway – so glad we did!)
Days passed. I made lists of the contents of the whole house, sent them off to Hannah, and we both made preliminary notations of items we each (or both) wanted. Some days it felt like I spent a lot of time moving piles around, and ever there were the papers – files, letters, photographs – to be at least organized for that indeterminate date when they could be looked at with proper appreciation.
For Thanksgiving, I drove to Lancaster to be with Hannah and Peter and more of the Weston family. It offered a chance to get away from tasks at home and the opportunity to spend almost a week with the Westons. I don’t have particularly entrenched feelings of “having” to be home for Thanksgiving, especially having spent the last four overseas, so it wasn’t a difficult holiday for me, as such. We enjoyed a splendid spread with Peter’s dad and sisters and brother and his family, and of course all the left-overs that go with such a meal. One afternoon Hannah and Peter and I baked the fruitcakes that we girls have always helped Mom with, and another afternoon we three enjoyed an outing to a dam along the Susquehanna River for the great treat of watching some of the bald eagles who congregate there. The week included good conversations, lots of coffee, and games of Hand and Foot and Cribbage in the evenings.On Saturday we visited Longwood Gardens, an extensive arboretum/greenhouse/ botanical garden that was developed by the wealthy du Pont family. We spent most of the time inside the huge greenhouse, first observing the impressive pipe organ (of all things), and less impressive Christmas carol sing-along, and then wandering through the maze of botanical displays. Outside, the grounds were decked with Christmas decorations, and we got to all three of the tree houses before the cold got the best of us. Back in Knoxville, I returned to a mixture of time with people and the ongoing task of sorting and packing. At the beginning of December a whirlwind visitor came in the person of my dear friend Pauline – you might remember her name from my blog post about visiting Paris and staying at her parents’ home. She’s in Chicago now and flew down for all of 26 hours just before exam week at Northwestern. I’m not sure quite how in that short a time, but we cooked together, shared the evening meal with other friends, took a walk bedazzled by ornamental maples with leaves that looked like rubies and wine, talked, visited a bakery, and even sat down to work on a term paper or music practice or a translation project. It was one of those visits that I’ll always remember as having a sort of golden haze of warm, embracing afternoon sunlight about it.
Another visit, also marvelous, came shortly thereafter. Joel and Jessica Koontz, and their two children, offered to come up from Chattanooga to help me sort household things and post some items for sale on Craig’s List. Not only did we manage to clear out Dad’s amazing study (amazing because of all he packed into what was intended to be the kitchen pantry) and tackle other sorting and advertising projects, but we also kept small children entertained and enjoyed rich conversation. Thank you, Joel and Jessica!
Hannah came for the better part of a week, with the specific goal that we would together get everything ready for the estate sale the last weekend before Christmas. Despite our best efforts, it wouldn’t have been possible if our uncle and cousin hadn’t helped sort some of Dad’s painting equipment and a few tools, and especially if Dad’s friend Tom hadn’t given the better part of two days to sorting Dad’s workshop. Talk about being indebted to someone!
Running an estate sale is a strange thing. First, it’s strange to have just anyone come in your house. The oddest were the ones who showed up on Thursday, asking if we were ready for them to look around. No, we were scrambling madly and definitely not ready! One guy walked straight into the house, which was pretty off-putting. Hannah plastered a sign on the front door declaring “ABSOLUTELY NO SALES” till Friday.
Hannah had to leave on Friday, but friends chipped in to help with the sale, and it really ran fine – despite the frigid temperatures the first day and the rain on day two. Between the garage and three rooms inside, there was a lot of stuff for sale, and it was sometime amusing, sometimes cheering, to see what people found useful. I didn’t enjoy haggling over prices, and the house only looked really sad once it was all over, and all the left-overs were sitting around, not in their proper places. Even though I’ve rarely been so tired, it had its enjoyable aspects – certainly the time with friends who helped each day and stayed to share lunch and chat and help out any way they could.
By early in the week of Christmas, it didn’t feel quite like Christmastime, but I sure was ready for a holiday! More in the next post.