I stood alone feeling like a zombie on acid. I knocked timidly and actually waited for an answer... Nothing. I took a deep breath and as I exhaled pushed open the door. From left to right, my eyes roamed slowly over his private space.
My dad was always armed with idioms. He repeated southern colloquialisms as much as he did the stories from his glory days. In this case, "You can't take things with you to Heaven." was the adage that popped out. It was the first time I had ever said it to myself and, for once, didn't feel the need to roll my eyes. I realized just how right he was. He didn't take anything.
There on the fireplace mantle were the tobacco pipes that had always been there. A hint of a shirt poked just out of a drawer. The antique butter churn that I played with as a child sat in the corner. The knife collection that was started by his father before him was in a box on his nightstand. A small stack of magazines were piled neatly next to the bed. My senior prom picture was free of dust, positioned at an angle that could be seen from anywhere in the room. All of it was still, silent and would not ever be moved again. Not by him.
My initial feeling was not of grief or greed. I did not dread having the task of sorting my father's material things. What I felt was a jolt of urgency.
Despite dad's advice, I wanted to take it ALL with me. I wanted to grab and hold onto each and every object that my father had ever touched. kept dear or just kept. A shred of paper with his signature on it. An armpit-stained-white-shirt-rag. His last jar of mountain moonshine. The unpaid electric bill on the counter. It didn't matter what it was. I just wanted a connection and hoped that each object had a trace of him. By touching his things, I would be somehow holding his hand.
The thought of a single ounce of his tonnage in the landfill made me ill, heaven forbid any of it fall into the hands of someone who didn't know how special those things were because they were, well, his. I realized that there weren't enough storage units in Tennessee to keep it all. "Can't take it with me to heaven." So, I did the only thing I knew to do.
For the next few days and nights, I touched as many of my father's things as I could. After meditating on each item, I took a photo of it and then placed the object in its new home. A pile to be donated, kept or appropriately trashed. With each click of the shutter I carved a headstone of pixels. Each jpeg represents the man I so terribly miss and makes the permanent void much less vast.
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