I recently returned from my hometown where I was helping my parents go through my grandfather’s home. He built the ranch with his own two hands and everything inside of it, over 60 years ago.
We quickly learned that he and my grandmother didn’t like to throw away anything and kept everything. Literally, everything. Boxes inside of boxes, non-working light fixtures, multiple lawn mower motors, boxes of items that didn’t sell at a yardsale my grandmother held 30+ years ago…you name it, they saved it!
So how did we start this daunting task when all of us live away from home? My parents began the process back in February, Gramp was continuously losing his balance and although he was/is sharp as a tack and only recently stopped making his homemade wine, they decided it was time for him to move into assisted living. At 92, my stubborn, Italian grandfather caved and decided that it would be in his best interest to move out of his home as well.
My parents moved Gramp’s essentials to his assisted living facility along with any sentimental items that he wanted. From there, they began tackling one room at a time.
They started with back bedrooms and closets, separating everything into 3 piles to determine whether they were things they or us kids would want to save, if things were in good enough condition to donate or if things needed to be disposed of.
They then began in the attic above the garage where Gramp stored a copy of every single check he’d EVER written along with his handmade, wood lawn ornaments (Santa Claus, Halloween figures, the Easter Bunny, a Nativity). My grandfather was quite an artist, he was able to draw what he envisioned, then used his circular saw, saw zaw and/or jig saw to carefully carve out each figure. Forever etched in my mind will be those holiday lawn ornaments, strategically placed around their enormous yard, beautifully lit and welcoming us every time we drove up their long driveway.
My parents started working on the unfinished basement next, where my grandfather had his wine cellar. I remember “playing bar” as a kid with my sisters, we’d have the jukebox playing and we’d use Gramp’s real beer mugs and liquor bottles to pretend we were “serving” patrons.
It was here that they discovered mountains of wine bottles and mason jars, all shapes, sizes and colors, stored in the custom made benches my grandfather had built along the exterior wall. There wasn’t an inch of space in that home that didn’t offer extra storage, including the ceiling tiles! This made perfect sense since my grandparents grew up during the Depression, where nothing was wasted and you hid your valuables.
Also in the cellar is my grandfather’s workshop, had I known I was going to write this piece, I would’ve taken photos of how organized everything was. He had spray painted the shape of each and every tool he owned (thousands of tools!!) on the wall so he would know where to return the tools when he was finished using them. Simply genius!
My parents eventually made their way into the second garage where Gramp kept even more tools, lawn equipment and outdoor games we used to play as kids. One of the fondest memories my sisters and I have of my grandmother – who passed away 12 years ago of Alzheimers – is playing croquet. Most Sunday afternoons and on every holiday (when it wasn’t snowing), we would break out the croquet set after relaxing in Gramp’s handmade, wooden 4 person swing.
Although it’s been a challenging and sentimental experience, I think it’s actually been a blessing having my grandfather alive through all of this, knowing that we’re taking special care of his possessions.
We’re all anxious to use Gram’s china in our own homes, that she used for every holiday. We’re honored to have furniture pieces that Gramp built with his own 2 hands and I can’t even tell you how excited I was to come across the deck of Old Maid cards that I played with my grandmother as a kid!
These are the stories that we’re sharing with my grandfather as we discover things. Sure, we pick on him for being a “pack rat” and for holding onto everything “just in case” – and of course he gets a kick out of it.
This has been an experience that none of us will forget as most people don’t begin this process until loved ones have passed. We are lucky that we’re able to still communicate with my grandfather and let him know that we’re holding on to all those things that have meant so much to him over the years. When it’s my grandfather’s time to go, I know he will feel settled knowing that we all have reminders of he and my grandmother.
Written by Kelly Vescio