Colorful companion to my memoir The Incompetent Psychic
Next to deal with after Dad and then Mom died was their house full of stuff. This story could continue through five more chapters describing the mountainous volume of things that Joan had amassed and inherited in 89 years of life, and what it took to sort, tag, sell, donate, store and move that mountain. I’ll try for a few paragraphs to spare you. (You can thank Kurt Vonnegut for this. I recently read ‘Pity the Reader’.)
A friend who owned a fabulous wedding mansion and tirelessly collected everything antique told us about once calling her yard sale an ‘estate sale’. A dealer showed up and asked who had died. “No one,” she replied, “My items are really nice and it sounded better.”
Picker guy snarked, “Lady. You can’t have an estate sale without a body.”
With this in mind, Catherine suggested we advertise as the Spinster Orphans since we had two bodies, and no kids of our own to leave all these things to. I made a sign and we continued sorting. — From Chapter 15
To be brutally honest, at this point in 2014 our parents Joan and Roy were no longer bodies, but two big cans of ashes waiting for better weather to ride a boat out into the Pacific Ocean. A five-bedroom house packed with eighty years of souvenirs wouldn’t wait as patiently to be dealt with.
Plum Johnson wrote the saga of a family’s shit best in ‘They Left Us Everything’… only her family collected more fishing memorabilia and my mom liked fussy, fragile figurines. Joan’s taste in decor sprung from the time of ‘brown furniture’. Had my mother embraced the decorating style of the era just before (art deco) or just after (mid-century modern), the re-distribution of Stuff Mountain would have been easier (and somewhat more profitable). Alas, current California taste doesn’t run to the Victorian reproduction motif of the 40s & 50s.
Epiphany! While painting in the evening I’ve been watching seasons of The Crown. My mother was born in the Commonwealth of Canada the same year as Elizabeth II. A dusty, unearthed treasure was a thick portfolio scrapbook Joan assembled after the war years. As a young woman, mom cut and pasted every image she could find of the Queen. The interior sets for the mini-series I’m watching are what Joan tried to reproduce on a bargain-shopping budget all my life. This explains the unwieldy tea cart and its attendent paraphernalia… and the wallpaper, and her overriding obsession about what other people think.
Besides the faux decor, my family also managed to reproduce the messy psychosis and bad behavior of the royals… but without the luxury of courtiers to cover it up. Fortunately, reporters weren’t camped out with cameras clamoring to expose us.
My sister and I were left to wade through all this ephemera for several years of heavy lifting. We mostly got through it, and still ended up with a collection of carved end tables and a closet of hand-crocheted table runners — even after six yard sales, an over-emotional flea market and the Spinster Orphans Etsy Shop (now defunct).
Other stuff is harder to relinquish. You can’t stick a neon $2 price tag on a neurosis and hope someone walks away with it. My sister and I still wrestle with what is true as we take turns imitating the more famous sisters — switching back and forth between Queen Elizabeth’s uptight propriety and Princess Margaret’s acting out. Anyone want a vintage English bone china issue?
A signed copy of Mernie’s memoir is available at www.etsy.com/listing/839838936
Unsigned copies can be ordered wherever books are sold.