Orange Dude, and other odds and ends

My sister and I have spent the past several months clearing out mom and dad’s house to get it ready to put on the market. Forty years and three thousand square feet of memories, junk, and a few treasures.

My father was born in the late 1920s; my mother in the mid-’30s. My father was very handy and could build or fix anything. Which means you save everything. No telling when you might need it. My mother was born in the middle of the Great Depression. Which also means you save everything. No telling how you might re-purpose it.

The first couple of weekends of clearing I spent in one room. An upstairs bedroom filled with financial papers and other documents. Boxes stacked upon boxes half-way to the ceiling covered nearly every inch of the room. Bank statements and canceled checks dating back to the ’70s. Tax returns. Loan documents for houses and sailboats and cars; the loans paid off years or decades ago, the boats and cars, long since sold or traded. Bags filled with prescription drug receipts. Medical records. Utility bills. Labrador puppy AKC registrations. Kitty adoption certificates. School records, both for my parents, and their four children. Every greeting card ever received.

I plowed through the decades of records for days, putting them into the mountainous recycling or shredding piles. Occasionally, an old card or letter would catch my eye and I’d stop and read it, perhaps putting it into the sister-should-see-this-before-I-toss-it pile. I wondered fleetingly why I wasn’t feeling more sentimental. Why I didn’t feel the need to read all the cards and letters. Why I’d rather rush through the process and be done with it. I imagine some people might curl up with the boxes and bags of old greeting cards and letters and lovingly read each one. Instead, I felt an impatience. A resentment that they saved all this stuff, forcing us to sort through it. Forcing us to revisit my mother’s careful curation of our family history. Forcing us to do something she couldn’t bring herself to do.

“I’d rather die and leave you to deal with it,” she told me, shortly after dad died.

Eventually I finished with the “record room,” moving on to the rest of the house. Sorting through knick-knacks and dishes was an easier task. After multiple weekend trips back and forth to my mother’s home (five hours round-trip), what remained was a massive “sell” pile, scattered throughout the house. Last weekend, sell is what we did.

We’d advertised the sale for Friday and Saturday. In a stroke of bad luck, Houston was hit with terrible flooding early in the week, and my mother’s neighborhood was hit hard. Her home, and others on her street, were spared. By Friday, the water had receded and we decided to go forward with the advertised sale. My sister, being a garage sale expert and control freak, suggested we do the sale ourselves, instead of hiring an estate sale company. We did a bit of research on-line and priced the bigger pieces. Everything else, we staged as best we could with the idea of bartering on the fly.

Bartering turned out to be a lot of fun. Many of the garage-salers were Hispanic, so I got to spend the day practicing my Spanish. The Mexican men seemed to prefer negotiating with me over my sister. Because I did my best to speak Spanish with them. But also because I was more willing to negotiate. The highlight of my day was an old Mexican woman who wanted to buy a handful of stainless and wooden kitchen utensils.

“Tres dolares,” I told her.

A look of disappointment crossed her face, as she walked off to find her hija. Later I saw her in the living room without her spoons. I motioned to her, asking her in broken Spanish where her spoons were. She led me into the kitchen and pointed. I picked them up off the counter.

“Cuanto?” I asked her.

She opened her hand and showed me some coins.

“Si,” I said, handing her the spoons.

The abuela smiled broadly as she accepted the spoons in exchange for her handful of change. And then she kissed me on the cheek.

The second highlight of the day was when I sold a vintage Monopoly game to three little Mexican girls for a quarter. I threw in a puzzle for free. If they come back next weekend for round two of the sale, I’m liable to give them the whole closet full of old games and puzzles for un dolar.

Plaster Orange Dude--Family Heirloom
Plaster Orange Dude–Family Heirloom

Admittedly I brought home a few odds and ends throughout this process. Photographs, a vintage Henredon chest, china teacups, a turkey platter, an orange dude, an African carving, a carved cat with three mice, among other treasures. (Also, a live cat.) With each item added to my “keep” box, I promised myself I’d do a thorough decluttering at my place, once the house is sold.

I wish I knew her story.
African Lady–I wish I knew her story.
Inexplicably had to have this.
I inexplicably had to have this.

Next weekend we continue with Round Two of the sale. We’re also scheduled to meet with the realtor on Saturday to prepare for the listing. So far, I’ve been remarkably unemotional, more concerned about dealing with the task at hand than getting bogged down in nostalgia. Luckily, my sister is of a similar mind, which has allowed things to go more smoothly than I imagined was possible.

As for the little live cat, the name that stuck is Lucy. Little Lucy is quickly ingratiating herself with the resident Three Black Cats. She’s having much better luck than Sophie-the-former-stray, who still will not come downstairs after three years. In contrast, as I write this, Lucy is napping on the sofa to the right of me. Sadie is having a bath on the sofa to the left of me. Earlier, Sally and Lucy sniffed noses. Granted, Sally followed up with a hiss. She can’t have the young’un getting grand ideas.


  • Glad I am in the process of decluttering my own house so the kids don’t have to. Am sending special pieces their way so they can starting dusting them. Hello to Lucy.

    Liked by 2 people

  • It is good you were not overly emotional over the contents of the house! And it is a nice touch that you sold the things very cheaply, so the people who were flooded had a chance to get some things they might need for next to nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not emotional, sentimental, or attached. I feel a little guilty about it. But not too much. I think we’ll have more flood people next weekend, after they’ll have had a chance to clean out. The more we sell the less we have to haul away. Let’s make a deal!

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  • I read this post and really feel so many parallels to my own life. My parents were also from the depression era and my father’s hoarding drove my mother crazy. I am living now in their old house. In order to move in, everything had to be cleared out. It was very hard and I just couldn’t do it. I enlisted help and have a few boxes of cards, photos and amazing memorabilia left that I saved. I’m sure much was trashed – but it was just too much to go through.
    I love the way you write. I went back to read more of your story. You write with incredible honesty and wisdom. I was very touched.
    So sorry for your losses and what you are currently dealing with. I had many of those issues with my mother’s care, as well as being the only one of my siblings that stepped up to it. Dementia is a horrible thing and constant UTI’s aren’t fun.
    Very happy you have those sweet kitties in your life that are comforting and give you so much pleasure.

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    • Thank you, Judy! That’s so kind of you to say.

      I don’t think I would have taken more time to go through it, even if I’d had the time. I just didn’t have it in me to deal with the emotions that surely would have been stirred up. I do have some things I set aside to read later.

      Mom is having a nice good stretch–she has been UTI free since early March. But the dementia marches inexorably on. Yes, the kitties do make it better. I am embracing the Crazy Cat Lady label, and am damn happy doing it.

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      • I sure don’t think you’re crazy – with all the stress, I think it’s amazing how you’ve worked hard to stay sane. I’m going to think of you as the “Caring Cat Lady!”
        You did better than I did with sorting – I had someone else do it for me. I had guilt also about being detached, but with emotions it’s impossible – as you so well understand. Glad to hear your mom is having a good stretch. That’s the best that could be hoped for. Dementia is awful – I even wrote a song about how sad it made me. Hang in there!

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  • With a dry house and lack of those in Houston right now, it is the perfect time to sell. Wishes for it to all go smoothly.
    My mom and dad apparently had enough dealing with their parents’ estates really pared down their belongings and went ahead and insisted we take stuff they wanted us to have to our houses when they were in their 70’s I used to tell them over and over “Keep the stuff. We’ll get it later.” But they insisted which really worked out better as despite the lists and agreements on party was a problem dividing up stuff at the end. I need to start clearing stuff,too. Already handed off the big antique china from my grandmother (turkey platter – can identify with that) and old oriental rugs – and stuff I worried about being in hurricane country. But the greeting cards…they pile up and does anyone really need to save them.
    Garage sales with interested parties ( and all the flood victims are now) are really fun. Spanish speakers are nice to work with – they do bargain and are so appreciative. I always ended up giving in, especially to the children and the older ones. Some you know have just arrived – with kids and others explaining to them as they go through items. As grandmother used to say, why keep it if someone else really needs it.
    I cannot believe you have that wooden mouse/cat group…we have on sitting in the cabinet.
    HAng in there. You’re doing great. (Purrs to the new resident)

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    • I am hopeful we’ll do well with the sale, seeing as it’s one of few houses in the neighborhood that didn’t flood. Since it made it through this one, I’d say it stands a fair chance of making it through the next forty or fifty years unscathed.
      I am quite surprised at how easily my sister and I have divvied up things. In part, it’s because we have quite different tastes. I think I’m also feeling quite lucky to be able to keep pretty much everything I wanted, seeing as I have had to negotiate only with my sister. If my brothers were still alive, Orange Dude definitely would have been an argument.There are a few things my sister got that I wanted, and vice versa. A common refrain, “If you die first, I want that.” A few things we agreed to take to the cabin in Canada, where we both can enjoy them.
      You have the same wooden mouse/cat group? How funny. So you can understand why I had to have it.
      Lucy sends purrs back your way. She is having a little snooze next to me on the sofa after eating nearly an entire can of food. She eats like the growing teenager she is. (She’ll be one in June.)

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  • The cat and the mice, that’s the must-keep item. The African lady, that’s worth investigating first if the desire is to sell at a later date. The orange dude, I probably would have sold that cheap or given away as a freebie. The documents, important to have – being former military (dad and I), the paper trail is important even today in the era of electronic records. Some receipts, put the more memorable ones in cheap frames and sold on eBay or something as memorabilia – priced right, someone will buy them. Same with some old greeting cards, fully intact.


    • The cat and mice are a big hit. Currently the mice (except the one hanging from the wooden cat’s mouth) are missing. The real cats keep stealing them. I’m definitely keeping the African lady. She’s gorgeous. And yes, the orange dude is on my end table. A piece of family history, now mid-century kitsch. I kept lots of important documents, which I have yet to go through. Greeting cards and such got tossed. Neither of us had the patience (or emotional fortitude) to deal with them. Hopefully we’ll have a successful day tomorrow at round 2 of the sale.

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