It was Yom Kippur, and I was thinking about my parents—especially my father. I was also contemplating cleaning out my closets. What has one thing got to do with another, you may ask? I don’t go to services, and I don’t observe the restrictions the holiday imposes. Out of respect for those who do, I stay at home. Hence, I have a day in which I can accomplish a chore. I am always sad on Yom Kippur and, so, keeping busy helps distract me.
Thinking about clearing out closets reminded me of when I had to sort out my father’s apartment in Miami. It was a deed that needed my attention after he had passed away and his apartment was sold. Biting the bullet, I decided to do my duty and booked a flight to Florida. As I remembered the event, I thought about that episode with sadness and a little smile on my face.
I had a shaky start when the airline lost my luggage. The need for warm-weather clothing became a must as I sweated in my toasty New York sweater. I searched every drawer and closet in his house looking for something I could wear until the airline delivered my luggage.
Wearing my father’s boxer shorts—held up with a clothespin—and an old T-shirt, I proceeded to begin my unpleasant task.
It was a home that had no corners. In every available space, there was a tchotchke, a broom, a painting my father had done on cardboard, a stool, a toilet brush, etc.
I opened the enormous walk-in closet in the bedroom. Every available shelf, up to the high-ceilinged top, was crammed with stuff, leaving little room for clothing.
An entire lifetime of gathered souvenirs and accumulated belongings were waiting for me to sort through.
My father believed in duct tape. His philosophy was, “Never have anything repaired, just stick it together with tape.” His was the house that duct tape built.
Tackling the task from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, I was zealously trying to finish the job so I could go home. I was getting sadder and sadder as I sorted through the morass of his possessions.
It was like pea soup—the more that went out, the more there was. The stuff grew with every day that passed. After filling two dumpsters with things, I was still overwhelmed with memorabilia spanning from 1901 to 1991, 30 years of telephone bill receipts and canceled checks—most likely hoarded to prove he wasn’t in debt.
Old vinyl records of Alan Sherman, Lawrence Welk, Vienna Waltzes and more were stacked up and heavy as lead. I couldn’t give them away.
Boxes and cartons of tools, screws, nails and everything he would ever need for a repair was there, so what was with the duct tape?
I came across my mother’s opal and diamond ring, wrapped in toilet paper, at the bottom of a box containing old receipts. Nothing was ever thrown out, including bills from my parents’ first furniture and rug purchases, dated 1928, which were itemized and stamped paid.
Tears obstructed my vision as I found letters from my children and my brother’s children, old photos taken with a Polaroid camera that were rapidly fading, along with lists and more lists of the living, and deceased, chronicling their birthdays and dates of their death.
I also found the 25 years of Sunday Daily News supplement covers he collected with color photos of then-current Hollywood stars, including Betty Grable, Alice Fay, Clark Gable and the like.
Slowly, the things had taken over the apartment. The duct tape had won—it had left its mark on every available surface.
It took me a week to dispose of a lifetime of stuff that seemed so important to him at the time.
I was glad to learn more about my father—facts I wasn’t aware of: his commendation from the Navy for his service in helping build battleships was one of many.
I gained insight into my father that I never would have had if I hadn’t perused his life and times through his overflowing closet shelves.
I didn’t wind up clearing out my own closets on Yom Kippur. Instead, I spent the day thinking about all those I had lost.
Maxine Stone’s column, Ruminations On Life As I See It, regularly appears in the Great Neck Record.