My mother was a minimalist who disliked clutter of any sort. Our home was beautiful, warm, open and airy but devoid of any type of knickknack, or paraphernalia she deemed unattractive or cumbersome. A snapshot of our living room: simple sheer white linen curtains, a silky cherry baby grand piano adorned with one family photo and a small Belleek Scotty dog atop its finely polished finish. Two or three tasteful paintings and a crystal Waterford bowl which sat center on the coffee table. If there was a word to describe the opposite of hoarder it would characterize my mother.
We all learned quite early on not to leave anything within her reach or it would simply disappear, forever. We had a theory, my sisters and I, that all those belongings, mostly certain items of clothing, were shipped off to her beloved homeland Ireland. We imagined our relatives or their friends or friends of their friends were the delighted recipients of the new American fashions which arrived in a package stamped “overseas.”
I don’t know how this idea was formulated among us. Had we heard my father in anger accusing her of this rather underhanded deed when he could not find his adored sweater? Had we seen a large UPS box tucked away in a hall closet? Had we heard my mother speaking to a distant relative in hushed tones, promising a shipment would soon arrive? No I do not believe we ever had absolute evidence, it was just a truth we knew existed, though one we could never quite prove.
My best friend once left her prized jean jacket at my house. I swallowed hard three days later when she came to my door ready to reclaim it. Ransacking the house together I finally shook my head in defeat and told her she must have left it elsewhere. But deep down I knew, it was no doubt en route that very moment, via Aer Lingus, to greener pastures.
Another time, my college roommate came home with me for the weekend and left her favorite sweatshirt in my room. She too would never see it again. I imagined another teenage girl, but this one Irish by birth, clad contentedly in the Manhattan College sweatshirt, perhaps strolling the banks of the Liffey on one of those chilled and damp Irish morns or sipping a Guiness in a local pub hugging the sweatshirt close.
My sisters and I were swimmers and divers and over the years accumulated many trophies as a result of our efforts. Years later as young adults, we noticed their absence and asked my mother where the trophies had gone. Silence. Our school yearbooks too had a short shelf life as did report cards, photographs and artwork. And at Christmas, our annual tree trimming, generally a happy and festive time, on more than one occasion ended in angry words and confrontations as ornaments usually of the bulky or unattractive variety, evaporated into thin air. “Check another box,” my mother would suggest.
I think it was my father who bore the brunt most deeply. He would sit in his recliner on Sunday mornings, peacefully reading the papers. Leaving for a short time to drive me to a friend’s house, he returned to find the papers he had left at the foot of his chair, not fifteen minutes before, gone. He would later find them stacked neatly in the garage, whisked away before he even had the chance to get through the sports page.
Was there a method to her madness? I think she simply disliked excess and when she felt we had too many items of clothing we had not worn in a while, decided it was time for them to be on their way.
You might think that this habit of my mother’s caused anger, frustration and hurt within our family. Sometimes true, but it only lasted a day or two being that we could never really prove it was her doing. Though while looking at a Christmas card one year of my four beaming Irish cousins, I could swear the youngest was clad in my old rolling Stones tee-shirt.
As an adult, I too dislike over accumulation and clutter. I am of the school that less is more. I understand my mother’s obsession with less more clearly now. I don’t agree with donating others belongings without permission though have been tempted on more than one occasion, to “whisk away” a number of my husband’s KU sweatshirts. I refrain.
And on those days I long to look at an old high school yearbook, I return to my old friend’s house. The one whose jean jacket went missing.