Breaking up Housekeeping

As we socially distance and self quarantine and occupy our time in ways productive, I have been pulling every weed in my yard, ironing all those clothes in that pile in the hamper, and polishing all of the silver




Which, for odd reasons, makes me think of all that pre-Covid nonsense about “No One Wants Your Stuff” and “Death Cleanse” and “Grandmillennial”

All of that seems so silly now

Plus, I’ll take all the silver


All of it

I’m sure it has a disinfectant quality (n.b. these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, EPA, SC DHEC, or your mama)

This spoon belonged to one of my great-grandmothers – notice the shape of the bowl – a little bit melted from use on wood burning stove sometime last century

They say brown furniture is making a come back

Where did it go?

Our decorating style is called Early Dead People as we love to use that which is inherited

I don’t speak Swedish

I don’t do Ikea

I speak Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Chippendale, Regency, the Brothers Adam

Adamsesque is one of best adjectives in the world

Duly noting all of that, and thinking a lot these days, one of the worst weekends of my life involved helping to clear out my maternal grandparents’ house of furniture, all browned and Hepplewhited and patinaed

Marble tops

Turned legs

Pieces from great great grandparents from Virginia





My grandfather had died two years prior

My grandmother decided to break up housekeeping

She would be moving to an assisted living facility close to one of my aunts

Breaking up housekeeping

That may be only a term my family uses

Breaking up housekeeping

Distributing to children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews

My grandparents’ siblings all broke up housekeeping at one point

I remember when my Aunt Virginia broke up housekeeping

I remember when my Aunt Marion broke up housekeeping

Now, it’s called downsizing

But, back in 1998, it was called hell


My grandmother’s breaking up housekeeping remains literally one of the most traumatic experiences of my life

Same with my wife who was then my fiancée who should have broken up housekeeping with me before we even started

What a break up it was

I still process it

My Aunt Em, my cousin Marion (nicknamed Manny), my darling fiancée, and I literally broke up my grandparents’ household

In the summer

In Columbia, South Carolina

If you know anything about South Carolina geography, well, then, you can confirm that during our hot, humid, scorching summers only a broken screen door separates Columbia and the fires of Hades in those months

The summer my soon to be bride and I were studying for the South Carolina Bar Exam

The summer we had the added burden of helping clear out my grandparents’ house

I still don’t know where my mother and my other maternal aunt were during that weekend of blood, sweat, and tears

I actually cut myself on something

Bled like a stuck pig

So much sweat

Tears of sadness for what had been and knowing that it would be no more

I still don’t know where my two brothers and three first cousins were during that time

All I know is that we five intrepid souls were there in the heat of the last weekend in June

making numerous runs to the trash dump

pulling out a drawer stuffed with washed, cleaned, and neatly folded plastic bread bags and twist ties

disposing of so many packets of ketchup, jelly, nondairy creamers all taken from restaurants

emptying the back of the pantry of what had become biological weapons in the form of canned goods hoarded since the Kennedy administration

wondering why there was an entire drawer of rubber bands

discarding so many old Southern Livings and Field and Streams and National Geographics

taking shoes to the Goodwill

rifling through sock drawers stuffed to the gills with pairs of socks many of which were missing a mate

cussing in the heat

going in and out of the house so often that the air conditioning failed

tripping on piles of old tupperware, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter containers, plastic sherbet bins long cleaned of their lemon, orange, or rainbow contents

asking why letters from people none of us knew where lodged in the drawers of the large butler’s secretary in the living room

“Who the hell is this person?” asked my Aunt Em upon reading one of the letters out loud to us

“Wisconsin? Mama doesn’t know anyone in Wisconsin”

Yet, there was copious correspondence from this lady in Wisconsin

Flipping the back of the envelopes


More names

“Oh, I remember,” my Aunt said with her memory jogged reading one of the letters.  “That was a distant Boerner cousin who married a fellow from Milwaukee. I had no idea Mama kept up with them. Kin to the Huguenins, too. Grandaddy’s people.”

I had no idea of whom she spoke

My cousin Manny snorted, “Em, we don’t have time to read all that. We’re breaking up housekeeping!”

Serious as the heart attacks awaiting us in the heat

That is some serious bidness

Breaking up housekeeping

Manny would throw something in a Hefty trash bag in a New York nanosecond

“Y’all, why in the WOLRD did they keep all this? You know I had to do this for Aunt Jane, too?”

In one bathroom there were at least four cans of partially used AquaNet

In another bathroom there were towels too thin to be used yet too thick to be discarded

How many sets of sheets does one bed need?

Apparently linen closets full

Costume jewelry?

Come and get it

The grenade that Uncle Capers brought back from World War I?

“Don’t worry; it’s a dud”

Jade from someone’s trip to Japan?

Ceramic flowers?

Grape clusters made from marble?

If this sounds like your grandparents’ houses, please raise your hands

Articles state that breaking up housekeeping can be super traumatic

Believe you me

It is

For those doing the heavy lifting

During that weekend, my dear Manny and I were making a run to the dump when she looked at me and said, “Oh, Dear Gawd, I’m going home and throwing away half of what I own”

That statement has stayed with me through the years

My maternal grandparents had lived through the deprivations of the South during the early twentieth century, the Great Depression, and World War II

They saved everything

I do not

If you write me a lovely letter, I will read it, then I will recycle it

If you give me a fabulous gift that I do not love, I will re-gift it or pass it on or donate it

If you pass on to me my third grade report card, I will smile at those memories and recycle it immediately

My grandparents had already given away china, silver, furniture, jewelry

The good stuff

But, oh there was so much else


At my grandparents house, we found all kinds of things no one wanted

We found threadbare throw rugs

We found old curlers

We found boxes of hair pins

We found sweaters with moth holes

We found my grandfather’s ties and suits long out of style

We found old bank statements stuffed in a drawer

We found tubes of lipstick with only remnants in the bottom yet still sitting on a dressing table

We found desiccated perfume bottles

We found random coffee cups given away as promotions at banks

We found old calendars

We found unfilled books of Greenbax stamps

We found cookbooks

We found shoe boxes without shoes

We found faded tintypes of family members that none of us knew and who none could recognize due to sun exposure

We found a photograph in a frame written on the back “Aunt Georgie” who looked like our people but Georgie who?

We found numerous copies of the South Caroliniana Magazine of the South Carolina Historical Society

We tossed it all

Except the tintypes and Aunt Georgie

Mean as hell

No mercy shown

Breaking up housekeeping for my grandparents made me the most cynical of housekeepers

When in doubt, throw it out

When we break up housekeeping for my parents’ and in-laws, I will be the one shaking my head “No” when asked if we should keep something

Adding to the contents of the local dump in what we hope will be the far distant future




I will toss it all

But, I’m keeping the silver


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