Thursday, November 14, 2019


Keep it, or throw it out?

In cleaning out the closest and drawers as summer clothing is cleaned and tucked away in storage, it's sometimes not an easy decision. Some items can be mended, but only if there is enough wear left to make it worth the time and effort.  Some items, that look like someone lost a jousting match with a paint can, are easier to toss away.

Most of us regularly go through our things, to clear space, to create room for new things, sometimes to the point it's almost an obsession.  I've met people that can not function if they don't shop almost daily, often for things they don't need, and can't afford, just because they have a psychological need to buy something. I once was sent to a home that had belonged to a hoarder. There was barely any light but for the lamps, items piled up over window height; a gloom that brooded over the clutter, as if angered by the light that came only with the flip of a switch. A single person lived there, with no room for family, for visitors, only for more possessions, most of which were in bags never opened.
I found that unbearably sad; even more so than the reason I was there.

Yet, in some ways, all of us are prone to gather up "things" that take up space.  I certainly have more lathe bits around than are likely allowed by law, and there are pots and pans of every conceivable size in the kitchen. There's also copies of cooking magazines, and oh, so many books. But those are things we use and re-read.

My first home on my own was a showpiece.  Three levels, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, full of beautiful new furniture, art and all the trappings of success.  I spent all of my time and money maintaining itwhich left little time or money for anything else. I liked to say I loved it, yet after another night alone in that place, but for Barkley, I had to admit to myself that there was a visceral response to the terrible loneliness of that open space, and I yearned for the lean days where life was simple and full of hope.

Giving most of it to charity; paring it down to just those things I really cherished, was the most liberating thing I've ever done.
I remember standing out that night in the woods a few weeks after I sold the house, duty having called, finding sense in the senseless, finding my purpose even as sparrows fall to earth. People watching from a distance would think me too quiet, too still, shouldn't this activity be a frenzy of lights and motion, like on TV?  But there is a great activity in being the quiet observer, standing in a stillness that smells of silence,  breathing in so many scents in damp cold air. Sweat, blood and a flower that only blooms in the dark, the wind so scant it's like breath on a mirror. Each smell blended yet distinct, always overlaid with the copper tang of life spilled. The air hums along to the nights quiet as all I see, smell and feel, forms into a substance I can almost feel on my flesh, capturing it, recording it there in the stillness. The truth is often still, inarticulate, not knowing it is the truth.
I knew then what my reality was, and it was not that house full of "things" Our reality is held only by us, not by others. They can only see the show, never really knowing what they are truly seeing.

Now my house is tiny, warm, full of the abandoned and reclaimed, almost every bit of wooden furniture rescued from a curb and restored. So much history here, so much laughter as that work was done. I look at it now, not with that quick glance that is a short day, greedily grabbed and then forgotten, but in the sustained light of memories made.

I remember the last round of cleaning before I moved here, an old broken washing machine left out by the trash where it soon disappeared as planned, by others that look to take what is cast off and make something worthwhile from it. There were also bags of trash and non-repairable clothing and such out in the bin to be discarded. The sun was setting, the sky and the horizon welded in one bright spark, soon to be snuffed out.  Everything around me dissolved into that last bit of warmth, bags of trash, heavy in my arms, everything in them at one time, fashioned out of love, duty or desire, which all bear their own weights.
Then, with everything out to be picked up, it was time to call Dad. For Dad is the one, person, more than anyone I know, who understands the importance of letting go and holding on.

I've written of it here before, as it's a journey many a family has been on,   Seventeen years into a happy remarriage after my Mom died from cancer, my stepmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She had long term care insurance, something she and her late husband had policies for. It covered nursing care, but Dad steadfastly refused to put her in a home, caring for her at home, even in his own declining years.
The disease's progression was as predictable as its course was certain.  Mood swings and aggression, words that made no sense, dropping to the floor like marbles, tears as she tried to mentally gather them up, anger at the very air around her. She always was gentle with my Dad though. Only with him would she remain calm, the reasoning that was blind and deaf somehow responding to something in him that her mind could still see.

Dad cared for her at home, no matter how bad it got. We couldn't visit, for we were strangers, and she'd go into a hysterical fury if we tried to enter the home. Dad was her calm and her constant. We arranged for someone to come in and lend a hand a few hours a week with the cooking and housework but he refused to let anyone else care for "his girl" or to send her to skilled nursing care. When she passed, it was quite sudden, after she contracted pneumonia. From her sudden coughing to her collapse, was just days.

Sometimes when you get to the far edge, the edge just breaks away.
We laid her to rest on a tree-covered hilltop. We visit, we bring flowers, we hug dhed some tears, neither of us immune to having our heart broken. Then we smile through the tears, sharing their stories as we make the long trip home to photos and a little stuffed bear wearing the colors of the flag.
One of those photos is one of her and  Dad on their first date, and you could see something in their smiles that would be lost on so many people. Not many people could have cared for her by themselves as my Dad did, for so long.  But I understand.  Love is a story that tells itself.

On my couch is the form of a black dog. Dumped during the holidaysheartworm positive at a high kill shelter. She responds with a heartbreaking and plaintive urgency to the sound of small children laughing as well as men walking while smoking a cigarette.  The first time I witnessed it, I cried. Apparently, she was with a family, with a smokermoney for cigarettes but not for the medicine that would have kept her safe.

Rescued, and recovering from a sometimes brutal treatment for the disease; we adopted her.  We've added a second rescue - a 100-pound yellow Lab who was rescued from a dark pen at a breeders.  She'd never known a couch, or grass, or human physical affection.  She was the dog equivalent of cattle and the joy she has brought to us as she discovers a new life has brought us both even more joy than we had with just Abby Lab.  For what was one person's decision to be rid of a burden was a saving grace in a house that had a gaping hole in it.
What we hold on to and what we let go, is as telling as the words we say. It took me years to understand it, but the words of Henry David Thoreau make perfect sense to me now.

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it".

I realized that there were certain things, and in the past, even certain people, that simply violated my sense of thrift, exacting things out of me well beyond their worth. That concept was lost to me when I was young, but as I got older, with truth stripped of its cloak of immortality, it was clear.
As I take out some things to be picked up by AmVets, I look around me. Shadows move like ghosts over the sun, deepening the grass to the color of jewels. The last remnants of the last snowstorm have melted, the dark earth trembling to release spring's flowers in the coming months.  At the side of a house, an old trellis that needs to be repaired before new life grabs onto it yet again.  I gather it close to my chest to take it inside to be mended, rather than tossed away.  This is my home I think, as I bend my face down to it, breathing in the scent of old wood, holding the weight securely as I move inside.  I could bury my face in it, this small thing to be salvaged from this place that I had always been seeking.

Home and love, love and desire, can be what propels us silently onward.  Hope and love,  love and desire, can also be mere sounds that people who have never hoped or loved or desired have for what they never possessed, and will not until such time as they forget the words. 
 - LBJ


  1. Lovely. I adored the description of the dog hearing children's laughter

  2. My ghostwriter works with people with alzheimer's and understands what you are talking about. The reason she stays in long term care nursing is because if you look hard enough, you can still see a glimpse of the person who was this now grizzled shell. One Christmas, the nursing home was celebrating the lighting of the big spruce tree in the front of the building. Everyone was crowded into one room so they could see it, and Christmas music was played. One lady, who couldn't even remember what was said a few seconds ago, began to sing. She knew all the words to all the songs, even the second and third verses! It's these kinds of miracles that make working with dementia such a fulfilling job.

    1. Chester - I'm glad ghostwriter does such work. My Stepmom was blessed to have such people like her around in her final days.


Welcome to The Book of Barkley and the Blogville dog blogging community. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab, who we adopted in 2014.

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