Amma’s not being here is a state, that is ongoing, but has not been accepted as ‘permanent’ in my mind. But, the slow clearing of her belongings, few as they are, are bringing back memories of times past. This morning I opened up a set of old boxes that had been tucked away at the back of her cupboard.
My mother was a hoarder, and nothing, nothing in which she saw potential re-use, and many that had no reasonable hope of re-use were put away. This was a trait revealed to me, only after my father passed away and she started living alone in Chennai. On those short visits during the vacations, one of my regular chores was to clean the book shelves, as my father’s large collection had been moved en block from Bangalore to Chennai, and I was their designated keeper. But, pulling out a drawer here, or opening a cupboard there to look for something, would reveal hoarded utensils, plastic bags, old brochures…… and since I was, I suppose rather disdainful and somewhat mocking of her trait, she would order me to leave her things well alone.
Every flier that came in the morning papers, wasw stored near the telephone, to jot numbers etc. The envelopes of every card she received (this was the 90s!) was kept for re-use, and the aluminium foil of medicines were carefully stored for scrubbing utensils as were the the plastic milk bags, washed and stored for aliquoting stuff for the freezer. She must have had periodic forays into cleaning and clearing, but as she grew older, these probably became fewer and the house started to get cluttered. So in later years, she would ask me to clean out a cupboard or shelf, and I would throw out stuff with her reluctant permission. It was in 2011, when she was in hospital for some time, following a hip fracture, that I really managed to throw out a lot of stuff. And ever after she kept complaining that she could not find things because of my clean up.
Like many of her generation, she knew sewing, and although I don’t remember her making clothes for us as children, she made her own petticoats and blouses for a long time. The manual sewing machine which she must have bought in the 50s was with her to the end and the sewing machine, near a window with good lighting was very much part of her house. Ans so today as I cleared up the boxes, I found this treasure – press buttons, a blade which was probably’s my father’s, a box of pins dating to the 60s, extra buttons from a sweater she must have knitted when??
And she often asked my brother and sister-in-law to get needles/stitch removers/needle threaders – the quality of European needles were considered to be better and the latter 2 items were not in our markets then. They continued to carry these for her over the years and this is today’s loot – enough needles to keep everyone I know in supply for many years, especially considering how much stitching is done!
I have considered myself to have taken after my father, a non-hoarder. But strangely, as every item in these boxes brought back memories, I found I could not throw out anything! And as I recalled the pruning of my father’s shelves in Bangalore and how I discovered books dating to his college days when I was unpacking his books on reaching Gurgaon, I realise that he was also a hoarder! Memories live on these little things….