I love April. It is my favorite month of the year. Although it starts off with the vestiges of March, often chilly, windy and still downright cold, you know that before month’s end it is going to warm up, tree buds will appear and tulips and daffodils will be everywhere (downtown that is). The cherry blooms and—OMG!—the pear blossoms along Lenox Avenue are nothing short of amazing. Having already made its magnificent display is the stretch along 7th Avenue, 121st to 122nd Street. What better sight in the midst of the inner city than a tree?
Another nice thing about this April, Mercury, the planet of communications, has finally gone direct after having been retrograde since March 22. I don’t know about you, but even armed with this knowledge, knowing there would be all kinds of communication snafus, I still got caught as my not-old-enough to break down printer went crazy. Printing one page over and over until it finally, for some unknown reason, gave up and wouldn’t print at all. I gave up and just shut it off. Taking a deep breath, I patiently waited until after the 15th, and low and behold, the printer has recalibrated itself and is back to doing what it does best—print.
Most people I have spoken to are also welcoming April with open arms as this first quarter of 2018 has been particularly bad. Everyone has a tale of unbelievable woe to tell. Jan. 26, my step-mother-in-law, Lloyd Overton Mitchell, died and it has been game on ever since. Lloyd was a resident of East Falls, Philadelphia. Her husband, Charles Edward Mitchell, died in 2014. My husband Charles was named estate executor.
I have been named to clean out the three-story plus a basement house and prepare it for sale. Now, this is my fourth house, so I pretty much got this. My first clean out was of my father Wilbur DeLaney’s Central Park West apartment in 2000. It was a daunting task. Like any “first,” I didn’t know if I could do it. I gave myself a three-month window, worked relentlessly day and night, gave away, threw away, stored away and cried myself through the whole process until three months later, the apartment was empty. I turned over the key and sighed the sigh of relief that no one wants to sigh.
Next was 13 years later with my mom Harriet DeLaney’s apartment. This clean out was a dual process because first I had to clean out her three-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive, where she had lived for 50 years. Giving myself again that three-month deadline, I moved into the apartment with only a change of work clothes and a toothbrush. Here, I began to craft my newly found skill. It began with going to Costco, purchasing a couple of boxes of large, heavy-duty trash bags and placing a box in each room and starting with the drawers.
Of course, it goes without saying you have to go through every piece of paper because you never know what money or other important items you might find. The most important document I found was the marriage certificate of my great-grandmother Anna, who was married to Samuel Gilliard in Charleston, S.C. Once again, the distribution process of what to give away, throw away or keep forever until it’s my daughter’s turn is not a task for the faint of heart. Again the indescribable feeling that comes with exiting the apartment for the last time and turning in the key to management was upon me.
However, this time I didn’t have time to wallow in my sorrow for too long because my mother had relocated to the Isabella Independent living apartments at 191st Street and Audubon Avenue. This clean out was accompanied by a different kind of emotion. Although the apartment was downscaled considerably to a one bedroom and only a stove top kitchen, no oven, living on the 17th floor, mom still had a magnificent view. Although there was much less room, I had tastefully furnished the apartment with a few pieces of her furniture from her old apartment, which made the new place very familiar and like home.
At Isabella, there was a resurrection of a quality of life. Lunch and dinner were served in the dining room and there was a community room where the seniors engaged in trivia games, Netflix movies and live concerts. There was even a disco night. Still, cleaning out the apartment was no less easy when my mother died, Jan. 1, 2016. I couldn’t spend the night, my designated time frame was reduced to six weeks and it was nonstop, move, lug, throw away, give away and fill my apartment with things I could never bear to part with.
Six months later, I donned my clean-out rags again. My childhood friend Garret Williams had come to town from his home in Dortmund, Germany, where he had been living for the past 20 years. His mother Lennie Williams, my mom’s best friend, had been rushed to the hospital, where it became evident that she would not return to River Terrace. His brother Langston had died only a few days before his arrival. He needed assistance. I pitched in because by now I had honed my skills. In the 90-degree summer heat, I helped Garret throw out and give away, and yes, I graciously accepted mementos from his mom for my own apartment. Once again that creepy overwhelming feeling came upon me—that of walking out of the door for the last time. Garrett and I went out to dinner the night before he was to return to Germany. Little did I know, as I looked back to wave goodbye after a delightful evening, that it would be the last time I saw Garret. He died March 25, 2017. Although I traveled to Germany for his funeral, I did not have to clean out his apartment—whew!
So here I am, April 2018, thoroughly exhausted from trekking back and forth to Philadelphia, wearing what has become my uniform, clearing a house of memories and what was once a life. I feel as though my earlier charges have definitely prepared me for this one, which can only be described as humongous. Fortunately, the house was equipped with endless rolls of super-strong, extra-large trash bags, as if in anticipation of my arrival. While emptying out numerous drawers, remembering the golden rule of going through every paper, I simultaneously organized two estate sales. There is an emotion that comes with witnessing people scurry throughout the house, leaving with items tucked under their arms that you’re glad they are taking and at the same time suppressing the urge to yell, “Hey, put that back!” It is like a heavy, dark cloud hanging low over your head. After assessing the odds and ends of the leftovers, the next step was contracting an estate liquidation service, which arrived with three movers and a large truck and took away all they could carry. Although they only pay the estate a minimal amount for a lifetime of generational furniture, you’re saved the expense both physically and financially of having to do it yourself. Grief is overcome by relief.
Down to the bare-bones, where we’re left with a cabinet full of glasses, none of which match, some corning ware sets and a carton full of Christmas items, I am now preparing for the feeling that is sure to come when we walk through the door for the last time and hear it close behind us. At least this time I’m prepared. Or am I?
Until next week … kisses.