Convincing our parents to move to an apartment is easier than we expected. After two weeks of resistance, Dad finally agrees. Mom, carrying a pillow instead of holding on to the banister, found their cat stretched across the step at the turn in the stairs. Snowflake’s favorite spot to lie in the morning sun. She nudged the cat off the step with her foot and lost her balance. She fell down the entire flight of stairs. The cat, yowling with indignation, climbed the hall curtains. Mom was unhurt.
On the phone, Dad tells me he’s thankful the front door was closed, “or your mother would have rolled off the porch.”
In the background, I hear Mom trying to get Dad’s attention. “Tell him I just relax. I go limp. That’s why I don’t hurt myself.”
Although the most serious, this isn’t her first fall. She’s had many, especially during their period of drinking. She’s never won a raffle or a lottery in her life, but she has survived every fall without breaking a bone. Maybe learning to ride a horse at summer camp taught her how to fall.
Despite dismissing her accident as a funny story, Dad is afraid that she won’t be so lucky again. The next time I visit, he tells me that he’s hired a neighbor’s daughter, a realtor, to sell their house. He’s already picked out an apartment in Arlington Center opposite the high school. When I’m alone with Mom, she arches her brow and pouts. “Your father never consulted me.”
“He took you to see the apartment, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did,” she snaps, “after he’d already made up his mind.”
“It’s for the best, don’t you think?”
“That’s not the point.” She sounds close to tears. “I have to give up Snowflake.”
That damn cat almost killed you, I want to say, but, in fact, I’m surprised an apartment would forbid a cat. “How’d they find out if you snuck him in?”
“That’s what I said, but Dad said no. They’d make us move.”
“We’ll take him.” I’m impulsive, eager to clear away any objection to their moving, but I immediately regret doing so. Our last cat ran away during a hurricane and Rachel doesn’t want another. “When we visit you, we’ll bring Snowflake.”
Leslie and I promise to spend a weekend helping Dad clean out the attic. Except for my mother’s teacup collection, they’ve never been sentimental about their belongings. Neither books nor knickknacks, clothes nor furniture, not even photographs. Over the years, I’ve rescued several belongings from their trash and spirited them home.
Once when Rachel and I visited years earlier, I found several boxes in the hall.
“What are these?”
“They’re for Bill Stevens,” Dad said from the living room. “He sells stuff at a flea market.”
In the box I saw china plates. “Isn’t this Grandma’s Limoges service. You’re giving -it to him?”
“He’s selling it for us.” Dad came into the hall. “He’ll take a seller’s fee and give the rest to us.”
In another box, I found the serving platters and tureens carefully packed in newspaper. “How well do you know him?”
“The Langfords down by the lake used him to sell their stuff.”
“Did you tell this Bill Stevens to set a minimum price before he sells it?” I didn’t like treating my father as a child, but a potential scam was obvious. Either he is becoming more trustful in old age or he has no interest in possessions that are no longer relevant to his life.
“He said he’d get a fair price.” Dad defended himself although he sounded doubtful. “But I hadn’t thought of that.”
“I’ll do some research on the pieces before he comes.”
“If you and Rachel want them, be my guest.” Dad wants to be rid of the entire business.
And that’s how we rescued Gramma’s 79-piece Limoges dinnerware from oblivion.
We weren’t as lucky with their two Paul Revere bowls. When the price of silver skyrocketed in the early eighties, they brought the bowls and other miscellaneous silver to a dealer in Boston. They couldn’t wait to tell us about their windfall. Rachel and I were appalled.
When Leslie and I arrive on clean-up day, Dad is already in the attic, throwing everything out an open window into the yard. He’s fanatical about financial and legal papers so I’m not worried that any of these documents will take the plunge. I want to look over what has already gone out the window, but for my own safety, I’ll wait until we’re finished. Rolls of vaguely familiar wallpaper, remnants of old rugs, a package of unopened insulation, books black with mildew, their covers hanging by threads – all take flight. Finding my Cub Scout uniform and Leslie’s tap dance costume in a trunk provides a moment of humor to dilute the sadness of watching our childhood dive headfirst from the third floor. The pile below is a social archeologist’s wet dream. Leslie rescues a photo album but most of the photos are stuck together. She hopes to find Mom’s wedding dress, but Dad hasn’t the foggiest idea where it is. She asks Mom about it, but gets a shrug, “It’s up there somewhere.” When Leslie tells her they can’t find it, Mom squints her eyes in thought, throws up her hands and shrugs.
An intriguing discovery is a stained army knapsack wedged between the wall and a broken floorboard. Inside, I find several packets of letters. Before I can look at them, Dad swipes the knapsack away. “I’ll take care of this.” I keep my eyes on the knapsack for the rest of the morning but have no opportunity to see anything more. Before lunch, Dad carries a metal trash can out of the garage and dumps the knapsack into it. He pours lighter fluid on it and, shielding himself with the trash can lid, throws a match into the barrel. There’s a whoomp, a whoosh of air, and flames. Old rubber bands holding the letters together snap apart in the heat. Scraps of burning paper float up in the draft and fall harmlessly onto the grass. From the dining room window, I watch the flames die back. Who wrote the letters and what did they say? A missing piece of my parents’ lives is gone forever.
During the next week, I stop by the apartment building. Their unit is on the fourth floor. I introduce myself to the building custodian who assures me the elevator is in good condition and inspected every year. “It’s out of service during the inspection, but only for a couple of hours. We notify the residents in advance to give them time to plan ahead.”
“Another question. I’m surprised management won’t allow residents to keep a cat in their unit.”
The custodian looks at me like I’m speaking nonsense. “We allow cats. And small dogs that don’t bark. It’s the big dogs we keep out.”
“That’s interesting. Thank you.”
I walk out to my car. That’s a piece of information I’ll keep to myself.
Nine granite steps in an embankment lead from the back door up to the parking lot. That could be a problem. I want to suggest to Dad that he find a building with a ground-floor apartment and no outside stairs, but as Mom said, “He’s already made up his mind.” And signed a contract I might add.
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