Saturday, February 26, 2011


I've spent the last month or two gathering the things my father left, those things I chose from his pile, with surprisingly little disagreement, alongside my siblings, and arranging them in my own small house. Dennis left no will, he left no money to speak of, but he left his little, historical apartment (such great light! look at the fireplace!) full of the things he'd spent years collecting and holding on to. We split up the furniture, the rugs, the art, the books. I picked up some odds-and-ends--an iron, a towel, a tube of German mustard. There is something very strange about shuffling his possessions into my own life--because they are his.

We discussed this as the five of us sat around that apartment in the days after his death and before his funeral. None of knew much about Dennis. He held himself close, guarded information tenaciously; I don't think very many people knew very much at all about him. But we had his things: they had grown familiar to us. And they seemed, in the absence of actual detail, to fill us in a little about him and his life. The Arthur Miller paintings rang with something I remember Connie saying about reading or not reading The Tropic of Cancer, a book I never saw Dennis's apartment without. The rugs (these are the things I collected most aggressively) with their air of foreignness, the way they manage to communicate old fashioned opulence said something too. Or the Picasso sketch or the great Williams-Sonoma china.

And Dennis gathered these things carefully, curated his collection. I remember one point where he'd read all the books he bought/borrowed from Weller's so took the lot of them back and started to slowly rebuild his library. He took the things he valued most from our house when he left and, I imagine, did the same thing when he left his second wife. I wasn't old enough to remember but get the sense that in the first case he wasn't particularly forthcoming about the things he took, and I wonder if he snuck around in the second as well: waited till everyone had left, packed his stuff into his little Ranger and taken off. (Am I a terrible daughter for wondering this?)

There's a sting here. Because, as strange as it feels to slide a half-a-dozen of his books into their places on my color-coded shelf, these things are also mine. The rosewood table that I wrapped in Mexican blankets and drove from his house is the same one I remember threading my fingers through as a little girl, dusting the tentacley swirls with tiny fingers tentatively, worried about getting caught touching living room furniture is as much a part of my growing up as it was his bachelorhood. And the grey rug I inherited--it was the softest one, the best for lounging on Sunday afternoons.

I dreamt about Dennis the other night. He came into the room smiling but after one second I knew he was fake, shouted at whoever my host was that he was a fake and how dare he (the host) try to trick me like that.

There's something tricky about having the things that so defined him in my house. I suddenly feel much older. I'm suddenly much more proud of the place I live (an old house, incidentally, with great light and an antique tiled fireplace) and of my collection of books and of my beautiful room. Suddenly I find myself weighed down, too, with these things I love, things I can't sell or fit in my trunk when I drive across the country. I felt Dennis's voice speaking in me when I wondered if a blue-striped oxford I bought the other day was too flamboyant. Do I like this ghost his things bring?


  1. Beautiful post. I certainly don't know the answer to your final question, but I think it is a wonderful thing that you can gain a connection to him in some way through the things he collected. I imagine that as long as you keep perspective about the relationships you collect being more important than the things you collect, having this ghost around can be a blessing.

  2. Beautiful, in a way. Haunting, in the most positive sense possible.

  3. Powerful rumination. I don't know if you'll ever work through it completely, but I think it's important to ask these questions and always remember the way that these things are both his and yours--a part of him and a part of you. Wonderful images too--love the rose tracing.