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  • Writer's pictureJayne Lisbeth

Cleaning closets, finding old lives

In December, 2005, Tim and I moved the contents of our two homes, our shop, the “Funky Bazaar” and Tim’s Art Studio, “Funky As A Monkey” into our new home in Seminole Heights. We stuffed as much of our shop and Tim’s art studio into our newly-built garage. The rest went into our closets. Those closets were so new, so pristine, so empty.

Then, we began feathering our nest. By 2022, we have filled every nook and cranny, every wall, with tschokes from our past, my heart collection, our metal collection (including a 1940s tractor seat) garage sale finds, glass and art. The ceilings are almost empty. I have found ways to hang special works of art from lamps and fans. Our nest is bursting at the seams, as are our closets.

These repositories have complained in groans, squeaks, protests, and finally our catch-all closet in the guest room screamed, “ENOUGH!” We were no longer able to deny the accumulations clogging this 8x4 foot space. Clearly, with guests arriving we could no longer ignore the call to arms. It was time to clean. We braced ourselves and dove into the once empty guest closet, now filled to overflowing. We confronted the repertoire of our pasts.

Photo albums were lined up like soldiers at attention, testaments to our dreams, children, vacations, homes and youth. They had to be addressed first. The years riffled by like waves as we opened each album. Memories floated to the surface of my heart and soul as we traced our fingertips over images, each photo an unearthed life. Before long there were albums all over the guest bed, the floor, and every flat surface.

We moved backwards through our lives. It was a shadow play of history. It took us days to finally admit we had to gently place our memories into large boxes, label and date them, and tape them shut. We filled eight boxes with photo albums and neatly stacked them in the corner of our emptying closet.

Now it was time to tackle the clothes, mostly mine, from 1967 to the present.

I had weeded out much from my past wardrobes. The remainders were the ensembles I could never give up. Perhaps now was the time. My first confrontation was my thigh-high lace-up leather boots, purchased in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1975. At the time, the purchase was an extravagant gift to myself and my new independence. Today, my pregnancy widened-feet and accumulated bunions make the boots impossible to pull on, no matter how I tried. They went into the “maybe” pile. “Maybe” they would someday fit one of my grandchildren?

I giggled over the memories my costume collection reincarnated from the depths of the closet’s yaws. My Majorettes costume married to my pirate’s hat and sword, my Chinese straw hat strung with Christmas decorations, all the refuse of great parties.

Christmas Party, December 2018

Then, Vermont erupted from shimmied-together hangers. My gorgeous sheepskin coat, a gift from my first husband at our first Christmas in 1967;

My OshKosh overalls, my constant attire in 1970; my Woodstock Country School hippie dress for big dinners, my flimsy hippie skirts and blouses, tiny halter tops nestled up to my L.L. Bean sweaters cozying up to my moth-eaten cashmere cardigans. How did I ever fit into any of these clothes? I re-examined my past. Did these ensembles have to depart? Maybe my younger hippie soul-daughters and sisters would appreciate these “gifts,” Rachel? Cassie? They went into the growing “maybe” pile.

My eyes rose. I contemplated the laden shelf above my head. Extra pillows had hidden everything I had not wanted to confront. I dug in. The discoveries and questions began. Did I really need an aluminum pot? I remembered that it was a gift from my first mother-in-law. What about that glass trifle and/or covered cake plate and waffle iron? When was the last time I made trifle or waffles? What about this work of art: a red and black lacquered and delicately painted Japanese Bento server? I had never used it, but always meant to. It would be great at one of our parties. I moved my Japanese work of art and the aluminum pot to the back of the shelf. “I’ll think about that later,” I said, in my best Scarlet O’Hara imitation. The trifle dish and waffle iron went into the Goodwill box.

I spied the stacks of children's books hidden in the corner. I had used these well-worn books in classes I taught in Carmel and Salinas, California, Tampa and Brandon, Florida. There was no dispute here, they stayed on the shelf. Each book was a sacred trust to my grandchildren, a sharing of literature through the years. The books, my curriculums and notes were a reminder that I had once shared my love of books and writing with children through my teaching programs. I continue to do so with my ever-growing tribe of grandchildren. Tenderly, I stacked the books, like a mini-library, in alphabetical order by author, and placed them back in my closet.

Sampling of my children's books for my classes:

Finally, our cleaning was completed. I stepped back and examined the closet with pride. We were ready for our next guests, arriving from Taiwan and Boca Raton. I looked at my life, there in boxes, on the shelf. My clothes rack, the remainder of ensembles kept for future parties and travels, were beautifully displayed with determination and staying power.

Just like me. I had grown in every way imaginable. The clothing no longer fits my body but still matches who I am today. Every memory, every one of my lives is embedded within this little room, a passageway into my past. I unearthed these skeletons from my closet, and they’re all good ones.

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