All That You Can’t Leave Behind Part 2

Vuillard--Misia at the Piano, 1899

Vuillard–Misia at the Piano, 1899

Vuillard 1895

Vuillard 1895

And if the darkness is to keep us apart

And the daylight feels like it’s a long way off

And if your glass heart should crack

And for a second you turn back

Oh no, be strong

  Walk on, walk on

What you’ve got they can’t steal it

No they can’t even feel it

Walk on walk on

Stay safe tonight

Mama, can we clean this out? I’ll help you. It’ll be fun!

I pulled the handle. Papers spilled as the heavy drawer slowly opened –church bulletins, family photos, old grocery lists-

a waterfall of paper cascading to the floor.

Oh no, oh no! Put that back… I might need it!

A grocery list?

I might need it!

I put it back. Valued keepsakes; dumpster-bound discards; my mother’s home was an archeological dig waiting to happen.

There was even artwork under the beds.

Please don’t get me wrong. My mother was not a hoarder; she was a survivor; a Depression survivor. She saw potential in everything.

Can’t we throw this out?


But she didn’t live there anymore.

She lived in a nursing home.

And it was time to tackle 40 years of accumulated treasures.

With every decision

(would cousin Peter like this?)

(could the thrift shop sell this?)

(do you want this?)

I was haunted.

Our mother —

who relished this home

and cherished these belongings–

would not approve.

Even though she said

it’s time to sell the house;

I knew

she didn’t mean it.

She didn’t want this.

She lived only a few miles away,

And there we were;

shelf by shelf; drawer by drawer; closet by closet;

demolishing her life.

As we begin,

the neighbors accost prospective buyers, proclaiming the house should not be sold. Our mother would be happily at home if it weren’t for her evil daughters— from the east— who put her away.

A neighbor races to the nursing home

They are removing your dining room furniture. You said I could have it. I’ll give you a good price!

My mother is hysterical.

The nurses are aghast.

Nothing surprises us.

We clean the garage. Donning hazard masks, we load huge dumpsters– expired medicine; exploded tomato cans; a wealth of evidence that dementia made its appearance a long time ago.

A neighbor storms into the backyard. Jabbing her finger in the air

You are making a big mistake. We can take care of her. She‘s just fine!

We sift sort discard

clean pack


The neighbors’ tirades could not begin to match the torrent of emotions inside those walls.

The most mundane objects–

a chipped cookie jar;

battered manicure set;

dog-eared encyclopedia–

spark a firestorm of memories.

But where’s Uncle Charlie’s diamond?

Grandma’s wedding band?




We will never know.

But in truth–

they can have the diamond;

we have the cookie jar.

As each room is emptied, my apprehension grows;

I have dreaded this moment for years.

In a few days,

my sister and I will walk out of this house

for the last time;

down the steps, down the red brick path;

no turning back.

I am not sure I can do it.

We lift pull carry

scrub sweep


small glass bottles of water

hidden in a bottom drawer.

But not just any water—this is holy water– blessed at our parish church the night before Easter.

Our family always attended The Easter Vigil; my parents enthusiastically participating in the church’s dramatic rituals as it prepared its new year;

its new beginning.

The blessing of water was one of those rituals;

apparently my mother had saved water every year–

water with special powers–

if you believe in such things.

My sister and I look at each other, amused;

What on earth do we do with holy water?

The toilet?

Bad karma! Let’s decide later.


the house is empty; not a single object remains;

except the water.

The closing is this afternoon;

our purses sit by the door;

Let’s sprinkle the water in the garden!

My sister walks to a rose bush

I sent this to daddy when he learned about the cancer.

We toss water on the roses and say our parents’ names.

In an instant

the moment I have dreaded for years

is easy.

We look at each other

surprised; relieved;

they would approve!


we sprinkle water throughout the garden

calling our ancestors’ names:

our grandparents and their parents;

our aunts; our uncles;

the water is almost gone.

We walk to the tree at the corner

This is for

 our cousins

and their children

and their children’s children.

And for us–

This is for us.

I had anticipated heartache; sorrow; remorse.

I felt




We danced down the red brick path and got in the car. I had planned this part. The daughter of a record producer, I knew I would need a soundtrack.

I had already installed U-2’s latest disc. I hit track 4. We drove away as Bono sang the words that had carried me to this moment; the words I needed to hear

Leave it behind

You’ve got to leave it behind

All that you fashion

All that you make

All that you build

All that you break

All that you measure

All that you steal

   All this you can leave behind…

The Day We Moved In, Photo by my sister, 1963

The Day We Moved In, Photo by my sister, 1963

Both sets of lyrics from Walk On, from the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2, music and lyrics by Adam Clayton, Larry Mullin, Dave Evans, Paul David Hewson, copyright Polygram International Music Publishing, BV

Again I welcome your comments.


11 thoughts on “All That You Can’t Leave Behind Part 2

    • As always, I appreciate your support for my writing. There is a quote that I almost used in the post that I will share with you here, from Ian McEwan’s Saturday

      “He saw that no one owned anything really. It’s all rented, or borrowed. Our possessions will outlast us, we’ll desert them in the end.”

      Thank you, H

  1. Beautifully written. It brought so many memories back of cleaning out my Mother’s house. She was also a person that saved everything. It took one entire day to go through just one bedroom. Keep writing!

    • I appreciate you say to “keep writing.” In the weeks following this post, I feel like I have turned a corner, that literally in clearing out my parents’ home here on A Swift Current, I have moved to a new phase of this effort. There are still topics I will pursue about my mom’s nursing home years, but as it was in life, the dismantling of our home signals a new phase. I did not expect to have that reaction during the writing and editing process. To be continued…(and thank you!) H

  2. Every time I visit my dad, I look at what lies ahead and shudder. Someone in our family has lived in that house for 100 years, so the accumulation is high and deep. But this recollection makes me slightly less afraid of what we will have to do sometime in the next decade. I’m touched my the poignancy of you peeking into the moving van on the day it all started in your mother’s house. Our journeys may be many, but none of them long enough. Thanks for essay in poetry. And the beautiful images too.

    • I shuddered the way you are shuddering now. And if in some small way this post gave you less afraid of the challenge ahead, I have more than achieved my mission. Your comments about my writing are deeply appreciated, and I may steal your phrase essay in poetry! Not long ago, I found a collection of missing childhood photographs (my mother was not the only disorganized member of our family), and among those photos, the 10 year old me staring into the moving van. Having recently found it, I proceeded to immediately forget about it, until I concluded writing this post. It is curious how one memory punctuates another, all right below the surface…

      Thank you, H

  3. What an amazing picture. Your writing always makes me cry, for you and for myself. I remember the day we sold the big family home. I remember doing all the cleaning out and my mother wanted to keep everything…at her assisted living residence and we had to tell her that so much of it had to go. Thank you once again for sharing this part of your life in such a beautiful way.

    • In my holier than thou moments, I like to think that I could never be attached to my possessions the way my mom was. But like her, the items around me are imbued with sentiment, memory, and meaning. As I write this, I am staring at a photo of my mom’s Arizona pioneer grandfather, near it is a framed postcard her father sent to her as a little girl, and next to that a little dish that belonged to my husband’s mother, and in that dish is a brass buckle bearing my dad’s record company logo. Above my desk is a 1950s print by Corita Kent; the colors are so deep and the message so uplifting, it never fails to move me. I know some day that I will have to let these things go, and I do not look forward to that day.

      The act of writing these posts has made me more sensitive to my judgments and appreciate more that there are deep layers to every story.

      And if my writing moves you to tears, trust me Francesca, I shed tears too…as I try to figure out what is important. One of my readers recently wrote to me that I am helping him realize what is important in life. Given that he is a retired pediatrician and worked in the preventative health field for decades, my guess that his priorities are already well placed (!), but the idea that we are exploring these emotions together is yet another reason I set out to do this…

      Thank you as always for your support of my efforts here, H

  4. Reading more and enjoying it so much. Hallie, you have a great way with words but your feelings are what grabs us as readers; that ‘aha’ feeling, the ‘yes, I’ve been there’. I think there’s great healing in your writings, for you and others. Have you thought of publishing?

    • Thank you. I am grateful to hear that these essays are “healing“…it invigorates and encourages me as I contemplate going forward with this effort. Many people have asked about publishing in a book format…I haven’t made efforts to contact a publisher but welcome input on that topic! Thank you again, H

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