“Surely, you want those guest towels I embroidered with the Eight Beatitudes?”

In today’s New York Times, Margaret Carlson captures an experience all-too-familiar to many of us: packing up the family home to sell it.  It’s gorgeous and heart-breaking. Carlson has the makings here of a great memoir:

I had left the house exactly as it was and exactly as they wished, with my brother, Jimmy, brain-damaged by an epileptic seizure at birth, at the center of it. My parents had created a world in a quiet suburb of Harrisburg, Pa., in which he could thrive, and they expected me to do the same, although my universe consisted of a daughter, a column and a house 150 miles away.

But at a certain point, I realized that I was caulking leaks and replacing pipes at an accelerating pace that had to stop. Finally, last spring, my brother saw he was beginning to sag like the gutters and agreed to move into a group apartment.

Before he could remember how much he would miss his snowblower, I put the house on the market. Happily, it sold right away. Unhappily, I had just 60 days to get rid of 70 years’ worth of belongings.

And belongings there were. My parents had created a buzzing, busy world of people and projects Jimmy could fit into. We were the only family on the block to churn our own ice cream and grow our own watermelons, so the neighborhood children loved coming over.

And because my parents couldn’t get out much, the dinners, poker games and Knights of Columbus meetings came to us. Bread was always setting, pie crust being rolled out and vegetables being picked.

 Picking through boxes and closets, hears echoes:

Nothing I found would have attracted attention on “Antiques Roadshow,” but it all had meaning for me. I needed to do some wholesale chucking, but I kept hearing voices coming out of closets, drawers and boxes.

“You can never have too many salt and pepper shakers,” my mother was certain. And “surely, you want those linen guest towels I embroidered with the Eight Beatitudes?”

Yes, I would want a pillowcase reminding me that the meek shall inherit the earth — in a perfect world, and if Georgetown had more closets.

Go ahead and read it all.  I hope Margaret Carlson puts it all into a book.  I think she understands a certain kind of American Catholic experience that is rapidly disappearing—the kind where every family knew a Knight, dined on tuna casserole on Fridays, and made the effort to preserve in tissue paper a little girl’s First Communion veil.


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