Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

My father-in-law, who is 95, went into an assisted living home about a month ago, so Tom and I went to Virginia last week to participate with his sisters, Deb and Jane, in getting the family home ready for sale.

Now, realize the Britts have lived in the same house since 1954 or 1955. Also realize that my mother-in-law died 27 years ago. As a result, for much of that time Tom’s dad has lived there alone or with one of his grandchildren in residence temporarily. (There also was a series of neighbors who took up residence with him now and again. In fact, one family lived with him for more than a year after their home burned to the ground – this was the fire in which Tom’s dad saved one of the children, for which he received the Carnegie Medal of Courage.)

What all this means is that the house has not had the benefit of a woman for a very long time. (I may have mentioned in the past that when Tom’s mother was living, she would scrub and wax the floors every Friday – even when they had graduated to a supposedly wax-free flooring.)

Also, Tom’s dad was always a handyman. He was a fireman by trade, but worked on his off days as a jack-of-all-trades, installing awnings, siding, carpet, you name it. As a result, he accumulated two large sheds full of tools over the past 65 years.

All of this is to say that when Tom and his sisters – plus spouses – started trying to get things divided up, cleaned up, spruced up, disposed of, it was a daunting task.

Think about your own house, and how that might go for you. We started with the attic spaces. There was half a room of Christmas stuff – trees, huge boxes of ornaments, figurines, and even three full sets of Christmas china that none of the siblings recalled ever seeing before. There were boxes and boxes of photographs – something you can’t just toss willy-nilly. There were kitchen items galore. There was furniture everywhere.

And there were DVDs everywhere. It became my task to sort through the movies. Tom’s dad is a World War II veteran, having served in the Navy in the Pacific, so he has a great love of videos about World War II. I found an entire storage box worth of war movies. He also loves comedies. I sorted and alphabetized maybe 150 of those. I found an equal number of movies of miscellaneous genres, in addition to boxes of Westerns, classical movies (think “Casablanca” or “Gone With the Wind”), musicals, nature and nonfiction films, religious movies, Christmas videos, science fiction, plus a whole passel of series like all the Indiana Jones movies, Star Wars, James Bond, etc.

Perhaps the other most interesting find (to me, anyway) was a group of records – 45s and LPs. Deb’s husband, Cy, did some investigating and found that some of the records could be somewhat valuable. For example, Deb had several original Beatles’ albums. We found that one of them – had it been in pristine condition – was worth $2,900. Of course, all the records had been played a lot, so they’re not going to be worth nearly that much – but it’s fun to dream.

Out in the two sheds there were some tools that must be 100 years old. Tom and Cy spent almost two days going through those, and my husband spent some time drooling over a few of those classic tools.

Then there were about 3,500 pennies. Again, Cy went through those to pull out the pennies with the wheat stalks on the back. And he found a 2-cent coin, dated 1879. I don’t think I ever knew that a 2-cent piece had been in circulation.

The Britt siblings are hoping to hold a huge yard sale when everything is sorted out. Then the house must be sold to help pay for Tom’s dad’s new abode.

After several days immersed in all the worldly belongings of Tom’s parents, I began to think about my own home and what my children may have to do someday.

Dismantling Tom’s family home is, on many levels, truly depressing. I have been a part of his family for 48 years. I’ve eaten many a meal at their dining room table. I have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and holidays there. I look around, and memories are everywhere.

I’d sit at the kitchen table as Tom’s mother made Sunday dinner. Every Sunday that we were in town we’d be part of a tradition that is now our own tradition – all the kids, then grandkids, would come for Sunday dinner every week that they could. Now my children – whoever is in town – all come to my house for Sunday supper virtually every week.

We’d gather around the Christmas tree in the middle of the living room to exchange gifts on Christmas morning.

We’d sit on the front porch on Sunday afternoon and watch the world go by – checking out what the neighbors were up to.

Tom’s mother always sat in the same chair in the living room to watch her soaps. Unfortunately, as grandchildren came along, the proximity of chair and TV was a problem. In order to enter the house, you’d have to walk between Tom’s mother and the TV screen – something you simply avoided if she were watching those daytime dramas.

It’s difficult to think that all of those events in my life have now come to an end. I cannot imagine what Tom’s dad must be feeling. It makes me very sad. I feel like, to a great extent, that we are dismantling his life before his very eyes. He has said he wants to be there for the yard sale – I say that’s probably the last place he wants to be. As it is, he spends more and more time reminiscing about days gone by. I suspect watching his life going out the door would be devastating.

Actually, I do have some idea what he’s going through. All of this has made me look at my own home – and all the “stuff” in it – differently.

I usually don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but this has altered my view of 2020. I have now vowed to declutter as best I can. I’m going to try to spend the coming year going through every room in my house with an eye toward disposing of the things I know my kids will not want, organizing the boxes of photos that have somehow never gotten into albums, and writing down why the things I keep are important to me.

Wish me luck.