Now, the bonus in my tutorial, Clearing out the Augean CrazyStables of Beloved Dead Family Members Without Triggering a Major Depressive Episode. [Cut to Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Bring out your dead!"] We've reviewed the need for companionship, speed, ruthlessness, and a sense of the absurd. In addition, I've found a way to snatch a small measure of joy (fun, even) from the jaws of death: Let's call it The Redemptive Token.
The RT is a thing that belonged to your dearly departed, rescued from the junk heap and repurposed with a little extra love. It doesn't have to be big or valuable (it is a token, after all); but we're not talking about the routine delivery of usable clothes or furniture to the Salvation Army, either. The giveaway, however tiny, should be intensely personal--a Zen-like transference of karma through stuff, preferably hands-on. Mine have included these:
* Daddy's last dollars. When I got my dad's sad little bag of personal effects back from the hospital (Jesus, why do they put them in a flimsy plastic garbage bag?), I found that his wallet had about $20 in it. Two rumpled tens--the last currency he ever handled, and never got a chance to spend. Boo hoo. Unable somehow to simply put them towards the next grocery haul, and bummed out by the pathos of jamming them into the church poor box, I stuck them in a special purse nook and asked my Dad to tell me what to do with them. Months later, I got on a city bus and saw a scrawny and exhausted guy with the furred-white lips of advanced thrush--this was 1986, and people were dying of AIDS in the streets. My dad had had an oral candida infection, too, from chemo; it was how I recognized it. It really sucked. Thrush guy got $20 without having to ask, and that poor messed-up mouth broke into a smile. Thanks, Dad!
* Silk scarf salvation. My aunt had an outbuilding on her country place for every category of stuff she hoarded--magazines, china and glassware, papers--and every one of them was an extravaganza of mice, mold, mildew, dust, and assorted decomposers I couldn't even identify. In the "old clothes" outbuilding, I found her ancient fur coat; it fell apart in my hands. Almost every garment was too far gone for any second life beyond the landfill. But there was a cache of colorful silk scarves; they stank of mildew, but hadn't shattered or been chewed on. Goddamit, something out of here is going to give somebody pleasure again...I washed them in Woolite until the mildew was exorcised, ironed them, and sent one to each of the old-lady friends in her address book--some of whom hadn't even heard she'd died. They loved them, and I had what the social workers call a "corrective experience" for the decomposing fur coat (augh).
* Tool tiempo. This one was really fun: finding a home for Uncle Don's old tools. We didn't need them; the Becker Boys had every tool in triplicate, and my dad's collection is enough to last the CrazyStable for a lifetime. (Who knew there were so many kinds of pliers?) Up at his brother's country place--where, unbeknowst to us, the fur was already rotting in a shed--my Dad would visit lovingly with his extra tools, which he stored in Don's barn. We found a dusty, rusty nest of tools in Don's city apartment. I threw out the many broken ones. But the usable ones were indestructible--some so old that they were still forged in America. Who needed or wanted those?
Well, where do you find guys who are both handy and needy? In Brooklyn, you find them on streetcorners along Fort Hamilton Parkway, waiting for contractors to pick them up for a day's labor at a construction site. Most are Mexican, some are Polish, all are hungry for work. Last Thursday morning, I circled around...which corner? And there it was: an awning proclaiming "Brenda's 99-cent Discount Store," with a dozen or so wary guys loitering out front. I parked and put down a cardboard box full of tools, and called out what I hoped was "Free stuff here!" in Spanish (but was probably something like "Liberate your tablecloths!")
In seconds, a hive of guys gathered around, picking up items and examining them. They spotted the coolest bits--like a three-way clamp--right away, and tried out the various files and wrenches. It was Daddy and Don in the barn all over again--Tool Guy Heaven--and a tiny bit of reparation for the way we treat these indispensible de-facto Americans whose strong backs and willing hands our country can't function without.
And then (lest you think any of this was my idea), as I pulled out, I remembered something about my aunt and uncle: They simply loved Mexico. Back in the Sixties, my aunt traveled there and sponsored a young man desperate to come to the States; he became a successful businessman and pilot and they stayed lifelong friends, the handsome young Mexican dropping in every so often on the aging lady from Alabama to give her a ride in his private plane. I think she enjoyed this Redemptive Token as much as I did.