The family archives

Kym Seabolt's cat craft made out of rocks

I lifted the ancient black and white photo in the ornate frame off the wall gingerly, then paused. Aware only then that I was holding my breath.

Subconsciously I had some concerns. Perhaps the house would actually collapse with this new imbalance.

Most of these photos have been on this wall for decades. How could I be sure that the smiling people in sepia tones weren’t the linchpin of the entire structure?

Everyone is Marie Kondo-ing like that’s a verb and getting rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy. I’m not sure what to do when it seems like some days, everything does.

Another trend is Swedish Death Cleaning. In this practice, one gets rid of all the stuff they don’t need anymore so that no one else has to do it for you after you pass.

It is a chance to go through everything you might leave behind and remember the worth — or lack thereof.


My late Gram’s home is the opposite of that. She wasn’t a hoarder by any means and she kept a neat and lovely home. She was, however, the repository of our entire family history.

That is going to take up some space. Photos, scrapbooks, the 1889 record book and an occasional pocket knife.

Numerous sets of dishes (spanning three centuries!) and a 1947 county wide yearbook from the days when an entire high school graduating class was 12 and the boys might be off at the war.

There are Depression-era baby shoes tucked into a cabinet and a neat pile of ladies white gloves that probably date to the Camelot years (Kennedy, not Lancelot).

Tucked on a shelf in her foyer was a cat (I use the term loosely) that I crafted out of two rocks, acrylic paints and a rope tail when I was very young. The head wobbles and the glue turned brown.

It is the kind of craft only a grandmother could love. It probably explains why, seeing my artistic abilities, she encouraged me to be a writer.

It has been three years since she left us. Or close to that. I realize it is a special sort of privilege to be able to allow a house to sit.

I have always said I come from a long line of stayers. My people move into a house and stay for the next 60 or so years. In fact, the archives in my grandmother’s house grew exponentially when she inherited the entire contents of her parents home of over 60 years.

I’m 20 years into our home and it still feels new. In doing yet another walkthrough of the still, empty house, we continue to find items we should really take home.


On a high shelf in the closet was a shiny red pocketbook. Very 1950s. GirlWonder claimed it immediately.

She strolled the house with the very Vogue handbag looped over her arm. She opened it to find a half roll of antacids with a wrapper from the early 1980s, a pocket mirror, and a clean hankie neatly folded in the bottom.

Unfolding it she marveled at the neat and precise stitching on the soft linen that formed a perfect J for Jeannette. Her great-great-grandmother.

This was her purse, and GirlWonder is her namesake. It felt fated that this purse and that handkerchief had sat on a shelf for decades waiting for the one person who would love it so to find it.

Of special note was the very next day, back at home, when I opened the purse myself I found a penny laying neatly on the smooth champagne-colored lining. I plucked it out, turned it over, and saw that it was dated 1968. The year I was born. Of course, it was. I would have expected nothing else.

As we slowly remove the purses, baby shoes, photos and furnishings the house seems to shrink. Isn’t it weird how the more things leave the house, the smaller it seems?

A home without its people is like a theater when the play is done and all the actors have left the stage.

I get sad when I visit there now but also don’t want to leave it. I wander in circles inside the house. Touching things. Sliding them gently back into place where they belong.

I tend to linger in this place that is bonded to me to the core of my bones.

BoyWonder finally asks, “Are you ready mom?”

Of course, the answer will always and forever be “no.”


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