It seems weird to be in this house and not have him asleep in the chair across the room. Not have him about to walk in the door after having taken the dog for a walk. Not have him hold Grandma's hand.
Sixty eight years. That's how long they were married. We found old birthday cards, old anniversary cards, addressed "To my bride of fifty eight years", signed "You're ever-lovin' guy." We also found every check he's ever written since August 2, 1940. Every income tax return since 1955. And every piece of mailing he's ever received having to do with medicare, his bank account, or the masonic lodge he had been a part of in the fifties. No, seriously. Literally. Every. Mailing. Every newsletter, every bill, every invoice.
We found the invoice for heating repair in 1962.
This week has been a flurry of trying to find all the necessary paperwork for Grampa's accounts--insurance, social security, etc. The man was a serious packrat. On the bright side, though, that meant we found my great-grandfather's ticket from Norway to the US, and my great-grandmother's Norwegian baptismal certificate. We also found every single one of my mother's grade reports--all twelve. Including the one that said, "Mary needs to talk less with her neighbors." For a man who didn't like to talk about the past a lot, he sure kept it around. In triplicate. Just in case.
It's a conflict of bittersweet and tenderness, what I've found filed around the house. I've found itineraries and fliers for trips planned, but never taken. But I've also found every single letter my mom wrote to them, bundled and stored in a fruit crate. I've even found the letters my brother and sister and I have written to them. Of course, they were stored in a cabinet in the bathroom, but still. They were saved. (But then, so was the invoice for the bathroom tile. That was laid in 1957.)
It's bizarre, seeing a life from this vantage point. Reading letters about things he never talked about (apparently his retirement wasn't quite as gracious as he liked to talk about). Identifying the dreams that were realized--the house that they designed and built themselves, that they documented, every step of the way, that they lived in for 49 years. But also noticing that they never did visit their friends in Scotland like they wanted to. Or retire to Sun City, like they had talked about (apparently, going by the voluminous paperwork they had filed).
I'm leaving for home tomorrow, taking with me a suitcase full of irreplacable family history. Leaving behind a houseful more.