The internet here is very slow so I can’t Google this – but in my recollection, one of the labours of Hercules was to clean out the Stygian stables, a massive dump of @#$. Is that right? And right now, I feel a bit like Hercules.
We’re nearly there. Dealing with the last chock a block boxes of photographs, including one where Mum had thoughtfully put lots of photos of other people’s weddings and babies, and many more blurry travel shots, shots so bad you can barely make out what they’re of, and yet she kept them all. All thrown out. Went through the photo albums with Auntie Do – she pointing out my British great-great grandparents and all the Brits – all the Nellies and Sams – and then the other album, the Kaplans, including a shot from the 1880s in Russia, Kaplan great-great grandparents. The diversity of my background on stark display. Wonderful, all of it – it’s just a shame I’ve never seen many of these before, because Mum had them all stashed away. There are photos of my father as a baby with his grandmother, Jacob Gordin’s wife Anna, that I might have put in my book about him – one of them, with my grandmother, at the beach. Must be Coney Island.
The heavy weight of heritage – and yet the joy of knowing one’s roots. Right now I feel rooted as never before. And in another way, I’m doing my best to yank up those heavy bonds to the past and move some of this stuff to my house, so I can dump it on my kids.
Tonight, my musician friends are coming back to look at the records – so many great ones, Pablo Casals, string quartets. Mum’s stamp collection – new stamps, hundreds of them, bought as an investment, I guess, both here and in the States. Sheets of Elvis stamps, anyone? Are we rich yet? Dealt with her Christmas card collection – two under the bed storage boxes plus a desk drawer, full. Mostly new, but also ones sent to her. There are still file cabinets full of papers. And my father’s ashes, which have sat in her closet since 1988. My brother and I are making a deal – we’re dividing and mixing Mum’s and Dad’s. I want to scatter my half in the Necropolis, with my kids. So I can go and visit my parents a few blocks from home.
Going out to dinner tonight – getting out of the dust. Getting out of the stables. And on Tuesday, it all arrives chez moi, where the unpacking begins. As Charlie Brown says, Good grief.
I ache, and not just physically.
PS Just went for a walk. It’s minus 3 with a wind, the kind of cold where your hands hurt if your gloves are off for long. Stumbled through the snow down to Britannia Park and the Ottawa River, where the guys were out – what’s it called, snowboard sailing? They have snowboards attached to giant colourful kites; they lie on the ground until the wind catches their sail, and then they’re skimming over the frozen snowy river at great speed, one doing leaps and twirls. It was beautiful and even more importantly, silent, except for a few shouts and laughs. WINTER! White as far as the eye could see, white white. I’d forgotten how lovely real winter can be. It’s just not a good time to live in a big city – makes you realize how filthy cars and human beings really are. Out here, there were snowshoe and ski tracks in the snow, dogs bounding, a park bench buried right to the very top – in white.
It looked so dead, the landscape, the trees grey and bare, Bob’s community garden below the condos, where Mum had her own patch, completely covered. But soon it’ll all spring to life again. How amazing is that? Hard to believe. Just as, though all those scores of relatives whose pictures I looked at today are dead, I go on, and when I’m dead, my children will go on, and Eli. Eli will go on. It’s almost enough to make an agnostic half-Jew believe in God.
But not quite.