When my grandmother died, my mother had to renounce her inheritance and for legal reasons I had too. That was the opposite of what it felt natural to me at that time. I have loved my grandmother all of my life; she was the only one telling me bed time stories and giving me pocket money to buy snacks as a young child. Accepting her belongings was my humble way of saying thank you to all of those good and happy memories and keeping her alive in me.
But the memories of a child or of our younger self to a great extent later in life seem delusional and out of prospective; or simply, our perspective in life has changed to the point that those images of the past feel like haunting memories of a reality that was never true in the beginning.
I loved my grandma and grandpa. I used to go and live with them every single summer till I went to university. The best part of the day was sitting on those two enormous sofa-beds in the kitchen; all visitors were welcomed non-stop. We would sit on those sofa-beds or around the big round kitchen table, TV was playing in the background, fresh coffee was served and then the stories would start; what happened that day in the city and in the old village, who was getting married, who died, political comments, satirical comments, humans on humans.
I was mostly listening. I was young then and those people were talking about things that I was not that interested; my plans were always different; going abroad, to study, to travel. But I liked seeing the house full of people with a smile on their faces and my grandparents always welcoming them. And I always felt welcomed too! Always!
After they both died, I was visiting their empty house. I was missing the action; those talks, the people and my grandparents sitting in their spot, while I was speculating about their differences as a couple. I was always making thoughts about the position of the man and the woman half a century ago. At the end I was carefully concluding in my head all the reasons of how I perceived their coexistence in their marriage and in their family as successful.
After their death, I realized that my analysis was mostly juvenile and naïve; as every family there were a lot of systemic issues that they were addressed the way they were addressed and that that my grandparents were humans as we all are and that our family was far from perfect.
Despite the ugly truth that was laid in front of my eyes through the legal battles that followed my grandparents death, a part of me remained truthfully bound to a nostalgic and innocent look on things. I was looking at the empty furniture and all I could recall was happy memories of Easter and summer vacations where I was sitting or sleeping on those sofa-beds, eating at the round table my favourite “pitakia” (small fried cheese pies that my grandma was always cooking for me at a special request) and listening to the ongoing conversations while sneak peecking on TV.
So when my mother decided to sell their house recently, I opted to buy some of the old furniture and move them to a country house my father owns almost to the other far end of the country. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. To almost anyone I know but my younger sister it seemed stupid and expensive; why rescue those nearly-a-century-old broken furniture and not buy new ones? The staff of the moving company was almost laughing at me, which apart of being highly unprofessional felt like an insult to my family’s history. My father agreed to accept the moving but at the end was grumpy and kept complaining all the time for brining all that rotten furniture to his place.
His place that he lends me for summer vacation was now a house that had stuff from all of my family members. Rescued furniture of my diseased maternal grandparents. The few things that my paternal grandmother left to my father that miraculously he did not throw or give away as he has done with all the other ones since he does not like old stuff lying around. His more recent stuff that he keeps in the house as storage, things that are neither attractive not that useful but he loves keeping them just in case. His bed and very few things he took from the house when my mother and he were divorced. Linen and other insignificant staff that my mother left behind after their divorce, including a very traditional hand crank sewing machine that only she could operate. She was forever linked to that machine after spending countless hours of hard labour overlooking the family needs through the seat of that machine. My aunt’s former living room prestigious sofa that she placed in the house for the mere fact that she did not have enough space to store it in her own country home, with a scent of her favourite cigarettes still embedded in the cushions. My sisters and mine teenagers’ books, notepads and electronics we used to have during our family summer vacations and my most recent excess of books that I too took to the house because I had no space left in my city room. And the very few number of things I bought in the last decay as I needed to function in the house after I had started visiting my father again.
Here I was with everything.
I had to spend all of my summer vacations cleaning, restoring and rejuvenating those furniture’s. It was hard work, with no breaks, no fun, and no help. Fumed in the chemicals of cleaning the dusty fabrics or polishing old and not looked after wood surfaces, I felt defeated a number of times. Not being able to find the eco-friendly products I needed, breathing a heavy smell of not natural cleaning liquids of all sorts, I was questioning my choice every single minute where my frustration was beating me up.
Even when my fatigue was rising above and beyond, and I had no time to eat or shower, still this was just the surface of my iceberg. A lot more of hard work was being done underneath, which made all of this endeavour really tough and heart aching.
All of my family history was laid in the touch and the sight of each household item. Each from a different generation or phase of my life, with a scent of an era gone for ever or a life event that was now kept only as a memory, with no hopes of a revival.
I have been cleaning and clearing things; one by one, piece by piece, every square meter that I was touching was becoming a question into the past. Things that my grandparents did not clean themselves as they were too old to care. My father’s really old and not useful collection of things that was kept in really smelly and rotten carbon boxes that made me sick to my stomach. My aunt’s furniture, once appeared sophisticated to my young eyes now making me feel unease with their cigarette smell and seriously questioning their belonging to the house I was taking over because of my notorious disdain for smoking. Extremely old rags that were salvaged from my grand-grandparents’ house by my late grandparents but did not survive the test of time. Eaten by bugs that I had to encounter as I was unfolding them, they fell apart, leaving chunks of threads all over. My heart was in real pain as if it was my unfulfilled duty to rescue them and it did not go well at all.
Once again I was repeating my old patterns. All of my life I have been cleaning and clearing things; while during student years, other people were making money with part time bar-tending or babysitting, I was cleaning houses. When I started renting my own houses, I was cleaning, restoring and making beautiful every place I was going. I have spent a lot of hours of my young life trying to clean and clear stuff. To find out that stuff never end, not cleaning, nor clearing.
I could feel every part of the story in those stuff. The pillow cases that my sister and I were sleeping on while being still in good terms and so very young, are so insignificant as items but so dear to me. They are the laughter and the teasing before our noon sleep, in quietness so mom and dad would not hear us. Throwing them away felt like deleting chapters of my childhood memories. And if I do that then what remains of me today?
I took that risk. I gave away, donated and for the first time ever threw things away. I bid farewell to years and years of a life remembered through a mind influenced heavily by my emotions. I wanted to ease my heart too and let go.
I kept mostly the ones that are associated with moment of content living, holidays, beautiful family reunions and most of all the loving memory of my grandparents. I cannot erase the hard times, the divorce, the fights, the many thoughts that I am less of in the family. Taking care of those furniture of all the other moments too, and keeping them felt like a movement of saying yes to life with all those less than perfect moments of struggle and confusion. I did what I could. With all that I have to offer. With my understanding of the situation was it was, as I were.
I was exhausted. I was also closer to a state of acceptance – things as they were, closer to the silence that comes when we are in peace. Not quite there yet. The body was aching, so many furniture that I had carried with my own two hands, so much dirt that I had cleaned with patience and perseverance. So much hunger to have a clean, beautiful house, perhaps a well put and beautiful family too.
I was working till the last day. I was hoping to get to enjoy at least one day free of chores and maybe perhaps in my next summer to get to invite friends over; to start building new stories in that house with all of that stuff from all of me, spreading more peace between my past and my present. I do not know how many times I have to repeat the clearing process. I sense that it is a continuous action of living. A movement of allowing myself to live without holding myself back. A creative process often holds a great, beautiful, uncompromising mess. I want a creative life. For that, I can see clearing as part of what I do within the freedom of my welcoming life.