We’ve managed to plan things so brilliantly that my mother and I are moving house within days of one another. This could not be more unhelpful on my part, especially as my sister is unable to drive following a hip operation. Mum and I compare removal quotes and dates. We’re both dreading the weeks ahead.
In truth, it’s far more traumatic for her. I’m merely bundling up whatever we brought to a rented house, ignoring the acres of pallets in storage. She’s lived in the same house for more than 50 years, with the cupboards to prove it. Over the past months, my sister and I have been sorting through them while my mother bristles with suspicion that we’ll throw out something dear to her. Team-work certainly, but it’s led to some bruising encounters.
Each door reveals a part of our lives now destined for piles marked new house, car-boot sale, eBay, bonfire, skip and charity shop. The ruthlessness of one sister is usually counterbalanced by the nostalgia of the other. My mother looks horrified and mildly hurt as we wrinkle our noses at some of the ancient artefacts. The one-eyed stuffed rabbit? ‘Bon-fire’, ‘car-boot’, we say simultaneously. Ancient skis? ‘Skip’, ‘eBay’ goes the cry. And so it goes on. Golf clubs, skateboards, record players, curtains, Spirograph sets, toy microscopes (complete with tweezers), photographs, poker chips. And books, books, books.
As we work, we listen to a tape recording of my sister’s wedding. She says, sighing with martyrdom, that they hadn’t wanted to waste money on a VHS recording (unlike her extravagant younger siblings). I point out that VHS hadn’t actually been invented back then.
The age gap keeps cropping up. ‘Somebody will want these,’ I say. ‘They’re proper vintage.’ ‘These,’ she replies, outraged, ‘were my bedroom curtains.’ ‘Do we have to listen to this-it’s depressing,’ I ask. ‘It’s my wedding,’ she cries. ‘How can it be depressing?’ ‘I can hear Aunt Liz,’ says my mother. We stop to listen to my great-aunt’s alarming vibrato.
I tackle the suitcases and, as I prepare to hurl one into the skip, I hear a window opening upstairs. ‘That suitcase came with me on my honeymoon.’ There is a good deal of Lady Bracknell in this delivery. I hold the suitcase over the skip uncertainly. Last week, she gave me a jar of dessicated minnows she’s sure Zam will want. The most worrying thing about this is that I know I put them in the skip, which means my mother has climbed into it to retrieve them.
Memories and laughter tumble out with the bags of curtain rings, nametapes, elastic, buttons, wool, half-made Wombles. Many of these are in paper bags from the largest shop in our nearest town, an emporium we considered the height of sophistication. ‘Do you remember when you’d had that haircut and we went in to ask for children’s underwear and the woman looked at you and said “Y-fronts this way”?’
Bella and my mother are now gasping for breath. My sister holds up a hot-water bottle cover in the shape of a cat. ‘That was mine,’ I say. ‘You can bin that, I never liked it.’ ‘I made that for you,’ she replies. Week by week, we move piles into the ‘car-boot room’. We’ve all seen Cash in the Attic and think each saucer, vase, map and armless doll will fetch 50p. The room is getting fuller and fuller-far too much for one car boot. I leave with 150 scallop shells. Bella takes the dressing-up clothes home to launder. I take a few books to the cathedral bookshop. Bella says she will try to sell some toys on eBay.
It’s been fun and sad in fairly equal measure, but I now realise that putting things aside to sell them has been a delaying tactic. My mother isn’t actually interested in making cash-it’s all a precursor to the final goodbye. When I went today, I found, to my astonishment, no sign of the car-boot pile. “Where is it all?’ I ask. ‘I gave it to the Scouts.’
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