Lorie Sheffer, take it away:
Last winter my dear friend died suddenly, leaving us with an enormous mountain of legal work and two residences filled with stuff. Grief had knocked the wind out of us, and the magnitude of the cleanup was almost incomprehensible. As soon as people realized that she had been a hoarder, I began to hear the comments of how sorry everyone was that we were left with such a “mess”. Yet we almost immediately realized that what looked like a mess to others was to be a gift to us. We didn’t know exactly how that gift would be uncovered, but uncover it we did. We are still uncovering it, layer by layer.
It is fascinating to sift through the years of a family’s life. Beautiful dresses from the 1930s. Ladies’ hats, not worn since the 1940s and 1950s, meticulously packed in boxes. Toddlers’ lovely woolen coats with little hand crocheted lace trimmed collars; hand knit sweaters and caps that belonged to her, the only child, the cherished daughter. Photographs of my husband’s family, smiling up from holiday dinners, sitting near beautifully decorated Christmas trees. Summers at Hershey Park when my husband was just a small boy, standing with her, his cousin, protectively holding his hand. Most heartbreaking were the photographs of my son and the thank-you notes and post cards from both of my children, lying on the tops of the heaps, where she could see them always. These were clearly the most cherished of all her possessions.
I slowly developed this need to rescue things from being sold or donated. It wasn’t the monetary value that interested me. I wanted to clean and restore these things and cherish them out of respect for the lives of the small family out of whose home they came. I saw a photograph of my friend as a teenager, lying on her bed reading a book; I am now preparing to remove, clean and restore the beautiful art deco furniture from that bedroom. The racks of vintage clothing that I discovered in the attic now have a place of honor in a lovely vintage clothing store. It comforts me to know that someone will come into that store and walk out with what they consider to be a treasure. I have stripped and sanded and refinished small tables, and I have cleaned and restored old clocks. I found lovely framed botanical prints that now grace the walls of my dining room, the same room where we had our last party with her. She sat with us and had dinner and laughed and knew that we were so very honored to have her with us for that evening. We had our annual special Christmas party just for her.
Now my father is seriously ill and is beginning what will be a long recovery. Every day I come home from the hospital exhausted, in desperate need of diversion. I turn to another gift she left to me, my beautiful chest filled with antique linens. I take them out one by one and soak them, beginning a process that can take as long as a week. A large tub of water sits on my porch, and every night I pour it onto my thirsty flowers and refill it, until the water runs clear. This has to be repeated for days. Then I begin the soak in oxygen bleach, which takes several more days. Finally, a few days in detergent, and then a final few days in clean water. Each day I change the water and each day more stain is lifted and beautiful fabric is revealed. It is cleaned and renewed. It is restored. It is cleansing and it is healing. I look toward the summer sky as the stars begin to appear, and I know she is there. I know that she is somehow helping me through this. I smile and I am grateful for the mess she has left for me.