A feeling for belongings Estates: Sorting out personal effects brings peace as well as sadness.

July 26, 1998|By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub | Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub,SUN-SENTINEL, SOUTH FLORIDA

It's finally over. All the belongings from my father's estate and my brother-in-law's estate have been disposed of in one way or another - given away, thrown away, sold or mingled with our own possessions.

You can't really understand the meaning of "breaking up a home" until you have to sort through the material things that represent someone else's life. My mother saved every card anyone sent her for the past 25 years. My dad folded dollar bills exactly the same way before he put them into a ceramic bank. My husband Carter's brother, Joel, carefully preserved all the mementos from his acting career on Broadway as well as his roles in summer stock and road shows.

What were memories to them are often just clutter to the person cleaning up the estate. We would love to keep all things with emotional attachments, but there just isn't room for everything. But, because they are family, we can't get rid of their things without shedding some tears.

As we went through this process, we couldn't help but think what will happen one day to all the things that mean so much to us. My newspaper clippings and awards. Carter's memorabilia from the years he spent in the military. Our family photographs. Because we have no children and no immediate family left, the person sifting through our memories will have no emotional attachment to us or to them. No tears will be shed. No "breaking up" a house. It will just be a job.

I remember the sadness I felt when, browsing through antiques shops a few years ago, I looked at the family portraits for sale. At the time, I wondered why relatives didn't want the memories. But now I wonder if there were any relatives left to care.

Even with immediate family still around, handling our family possessions was difficult. We kept the crystal, silver tureen and some dishes Carter's mother had beautifully designed and painted. We saved my mother's hope chest, silverware, Oriental rug and two antique chairs. And, of course, we kept all the photographs, slides and family movies.

But there were so many things that we just didn't have room to incorporate into our small home.

Somehow we couldn't face the coldness of an auctioneer and strangers competing like scavengers for what was left.

For significant items left by Carter's brother, a longtime family friend is finding buyers. Other things will be given away to those who need them.

My family possessions were reduced a year ago when I moved Dad to the first floor of his three-story house and moved relatives into the top two stories.

We wanted what was left to be given to people who were good to him in his last years.

Uncle Gene (Dad's brother) and his wife, Goldie, who brought Dad homemade soup every Friday, came to select furniture and dishes for their granddaughter's first apartment. My Uncle Sonny (Mom's brother), my Dad's buddy for drinking coffee and sharing stories, took Dad's tool chest, filing cabinet and fireplace equipment.

But what we didn't know was that what would give us the most peace was a gift to a stranger.

No one, it seemed, wanted Dad's adjustable electric bed, because it was a twin. But Uncle Sonny had the courage to go to a poor neighborhood and knock on doors asking strangers if they needed a bed. It didn't take long. He found a single mother who was so poor that her 6-year-old son had always had to share her bed.

When the little boy found out, Uncle Sonny said, he jumped up and down with excitement.

I will never see the little boy or know his name. But I will have the comfort that out of the loss of my father came happiness for a poor little boy who finally knows what it's like to sleep in his own bed.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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