The family spent yesterday at Big Daddy's house, going through his stuff and dividing it up. It is not your normal family outing, that is for sure.
The first time I ever had to do such a thing, it was my Dad's stuff after he died in 1993. He was the first of my immediate family to go, and it was shocking because of his age - 57. It hit me so hard. Here was all of his stuff - ALL of it - and yet he was gone and not coming back. Very strange experience, and difficult to navigate.
This time there were a few tears, but a lot more laughter. There were old photos seeing the light of day for the first time in decades. There was a newspaper from July 21, 1969 - all about the first man on the moon. He also had two newspapers from the day his one and only great grandson was born. We read Big Daddy's draft notice from 1945. Letters from his brother Johnny before he was killed in WWII, along with a Nazi flag he took from the Germans. A box of memories of his mother. Lots of correspondence from his days as "Fortner the Merry Magician". All kinds of magic paraphernalia, books and media. His old license tag "K4PKQ" reflecting his ham radio days. There was an old chest from his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps, working in Oregon. There was an anatomically correct (sort of) frog, and some other off-color doodads. The box labeled "wide ties" was a source of amusement. The "narrow ties" weren't much better. The bolo ties were cool.
Today I read his "life story" that he began writing in longhand, bit by bit. His story covered his earliest memories and unfortunately, ends just as he met his wife-to-be, Ruby, and discovered his love of magic and ventriloquism. It is a damn shame he didn't get to finish it - it is a compelling read. He describes a hardscrabble existence in Atlanta during the depression -- no indoor plumbing or electricity; transportation involved walking, a bicycle or a horse and buggy; he had a father who drank too much; the family moved around a lot; and he had to leave school during the ninth grade to work and help support the family because times were so hard. He took correspondence school at night to get enough education to take the police exam. He met my grandmother at a wake. He had so many stories from his long career as an Atlanta policeman, and a second career as in investigator for the Public Defender's Office. During this entire time, he also did magic, ventriloquism, and mentalist performances. I wish he had had the chance to write all of those stories down, too. He knew so much about old Atlanta, much of which is gone forever.
I didn't take that much from his house. A few sentimental items, and some things that we can truly use - mostly kitchen things and some linens - ordinary wares I know that he and Grandmother used daily. It will take a while for it to seem normal for this stuff to be in my home and not his.
As has been the case throughout much of this, the weather seems to echo my state of mind. Saturday the air was heavy and sticky. There was the threat of distant thunder, but nothing in a hurry to get here. Finally, late overnight thunderstorms ushered in a shift in the weather. Today was changeable and windy. Unsettling. The wind chimes are frantically active and loud; the yard already full of sticks and leaves. But this will pass. I am counting on better days ahead.