I love the word culling. It can mean the art of letting go. Sorting. Tidying. Deciding which things you keep and which ones you let go.
I used to have a lot of clothes. I’ve learned to give away or donate most of the ones that I outgrew in style or size or that were just not in fashion anymore. As for things, I’m pretty simple when it comes to jewelry. I have the Moroccan silver ring that I selected and that my mother bought for me when I was 14. I have the amber necklace that I wear every day that a family friend bought me for Christmas and I have a pearl ring from Macedonia and a funky handmade ring I bought in Odessa, Ukraine. And I have my mother’s pearl necklace she wore on her wedding day.
The most prized possession I have of my mother is a framed photo of us together on Children’s Tidepool in La Jolla Shores right around the time the sea lions came and reclaimed their territory and this children’s’ pool became a birthing and resting spot for San Diego’s sea lions.
In the photo I wear black and white striped leggings and a toothy grin. This is years before she became sick and back when she had her trademark low-lighted auburn curly-wavy hair at shoulder length. We are both crouching next to each other and this is back when you could get as close as an arm length’s distance from the seals. If we wanted to, we could very easily had touched these majestic creatures. Now a days, these marine mammals are roped off and if you get so much as thirty feet away, an environmental activist with a loudspeaker will yell at you.
My mother and I would visit La Jolla and San Diego every year and stay with my grandfather or when my mother found a good deal, we would stay one night at either the Pink Lady or the Del. I loved San Diego so much. The air was cleaner, the beaches prettier and everyone seemed more relaxed and laid-back. In fact, I liked it so much that I went to undergrad here as well at UCSD.
During my first semester at university, when my mother was dying of lung cancer, the kind that killed the late Dana Reeve. And no she did not smoke. It seemed wholly unfair. My mother did air force exercises reinterpreted for ladies and went on two long strenuous walks in the hills twice a day. She did crunches, push-ups (the man kind), and lifted 10 lb. weights. She was buff, always had a tan, and knew how to enjoy life. She liked to go to movies, TV-related press conferences, played ping pong with me at posh parties, and did a whole day at the beach prepared. We would picnic with lawn chairs, big umbrellas and avocado or peanut butter sandwiches, melon, and lots of fruit available. For dessert, we would end the day by sharing a ginormous slice of either strawberry shortcake or key lime pie at Gladstone’s in Malibu.
These are memories I hold on to. What I have left of her physically are the cremated ashes of our family dog Linda, the black and white terrier she surprised me with one summer day in 1996. The geraniums she watered every day on our back porch. Her many boxes and boxes of writing from yellowed newspaper articles she published in the 1970’s until blog posts/articles she wrote within days of her death in March 2007. I have scrapbooks and photo albums. Her purse(s). Her black winter coat she bought for a trip to London in 2003. Her collection of coins that I keep with me wherever I am. Funky dress-up jewelry she collected as a fashion writer in the 1980’s. Delicate scarves I always pack with me but never use. Purple suede lace up go-go boots from her college days. The rocking chair that I remember her reading to me on. Quirky artistic reproductions that she inherited from her gay fashion designer friend who passed away less than two years later she did.
The last conversation I had with him was about a cat I had been fostering at the time. He seemed mildly interested in adopting it but was still getting over his other cat named Brrrr.
His death was unexpected.
The last 7 years have been difficult. One of my mother’s friends was right in that her upcoming death would mess me up. At the time, I refused to believe and just wanted to get to the hospital in time to say goodbye. I was preparing for my exams week towards the end of fall semester and got a phone call while in the library from her friend. I knew in my gut that something had happened. She was in the hospital and not altogether conscious. I had to go home right away. The details are a blur but I remember throwing together stuff in a suitcase, a friend giving me a lift to the train station and me waiting in an annoyingly long line to buy a one way ticket home to LA. I was familiar with this station, Solana Beach. I was a regular and Cathy, the ticket agent was familiar with why I was going home every single weekend. She could tell this time that things had taken a turn for the worse and immediately bumped me up to first class, a gesture I remember and appreciate to this day.
My mother’s friends picked me up at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and whisked me across rush-hour traffic (mind you this was a Sunday, March 18) to get to Cedar’s on time. Well, my mother could sense I was rushing and she ultimately passed away three days later on Wednesday, March 21, ironically the first day of spring and the first real sunny day that week. It was eerie and and symbolic at the same time.
My mother was the one who taught me the art of letting go. She could not speak due to her condition but in her last moment of consciousness, she hugged me one last time. I cannot write more about this for personal reasons.
Her clothes were matronly and in different sizes. She had lost and gained weight dramatically over the nearly five years she struggled with this disease. When she was in remission and in better health, she had a hearty warmth about her and wore overalls. When things were bad, she was thin and fit into my size 4 clothes.
Giving away and donating her clothes and calling for things to be donated to her favorite charities in lieu of flowers were what she would have wanted.
Not accumulating stuff and constant culling of my wardrobe and material goods were habits I especially adopted after her death. Maybe it’s a fear of “What if I die tomorrow?” What is the significance of my things? I do most of my writing and work cyberly like most people nowadays and the most delicate items I have collected and hold on to are for what I imagine to be my future home.
But that then begs the question on what is home. I hate the cliche “home is where the heart is.” But what if your heart belongs to too many people and places? To make my home more homey, the few aesthetic items I try to bring with me are
1) Candle holders that my mother painted with me at a family event over 15 years ago
2) the Menorah that my mother used to celebrate the holidays with me
3) framed photograph of my mother and I
4) the slightly frayed poster of Pulp Fiction that once hung in my father’s office on Wilshire Blvd. It brings back memories of me visiting him in his two room office and him generously giving me a few Walkers biscuits out of his several tins.
5) my Bosnian coffeepot and Armenian coffee set and other tiny souvenirs from my travels.
6) my favorite antique books
When it comes to material objects, my clothes are the first and easiest thing to get rid of. Of course I always hold on to and keep the green African tribal handmade dress my friend Mercy gave me. Or the yellow strapless dress I wore to my friend Jenny’s wedding.
After losing someone, it is too easy to gain perspective. At the end of the day, can you take your dresses with you to the great beyond?