The imperfect is a verb form, found in various languages, which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can therefore have meanings similar to the English “was walking” or “used to walk.” It contrasts with preterite forms, which refer to a single completed event in the past.
My dad passed away in October last year. It took a couple months for his caregivers to move out to a new apartment. A Realtor friend (of my brother) came by to look at the house and make recommendations on how to prep it for sale.
Yesterday was spent delving through my father’s house and moving things out to a dumpster. It is the job of his four sons to empty the home in which he lived for 35 years.
We moved there in 1978, the summer before my senior year in college. That summer I trained a solid but not crazy schedule, averaging perhaps 35-40 miles per week. The house rests on the long incline of a hill where my brothers and I used to birdwatch on fallow farm fields where gray partridge and pheasants were abundant. I’d finish my runs with hillwork that would prove critical in the season ahead.
Since those years, the entire area around our house has filled in subdivisions. But back then our house was perched out in the open. The long and winding road back to the house could be a long trek on a hot day.
Life seemed like it was changing fast with the move to that house and the pending spectre of my senior year in college. I’d had a great track season the year before, setting PRs at all distances from the mile to the 5000 meters.
But I’d done so with a physical look that was part Lasse Viren and part Napolean Dynamite. I recall looking in the mirror that summer of 1978 and thinking it was time to cut off the long hair and shave the thin beard occupying my chin.
So I took shears to my head and cut off large locks of thick hair. It looked like hell. That meant a trip to the barber shop was in order. They fixed what I had wrought. Pretty sure they had a good, long laugh that day when I left.
Then I pulled out a Bic razor and lathered up my face. Left the mustache (because it was 1978) and got clean-shaven.
When I went back to school that fall, tanned and fit and wearing contact lenses and normal hair, no one at the first frat party even knew me. But I fell in love with a girl and that was the formula for happy running. I leapt from 7th to second man for most of the season that fall. Our team placed Second in the Division III National Cross Country Championship.
So the associations with that house where my father lived are not all bad. But they were largely replaced by the last 15 years of so when my father lived with the effects of a debilitating stroke. He needed a wheelchair to get around, and his loss of speech robbed us of family history that could never be recovered.
His junk habits were not horrible, but he was incapable of throwing away anything mechanical. Which meant his house was cluttered (but not jammed) with stuff that needed to be thrown out. I turned my Sentiment Meter down to about 2 on the scale of 10. We tossed heaps of useless stuff into a three-yard dumpster.
I kept a few things. Some t-squares and rulers for my art. A cool old cigar box from the 1950s. Obviously all the family photos and archives. We’ve carefully stored all those.
At one point I looked into a jar and found a mouse long dead in a jar of some chemical. My dad was always fixing golf clubs and puttering in his garage. The mouse and a bunch of flies had met their demise at the bottom of the jar. It looked like an archeology exhibit, like those amazingly excavated fossil skeletons in the London Museum of Natural History that we visited last April. Or, it looked like the remnants of some creature pulled from the La Brea tar pits. All ribs and spine. Not a nice way to go, yet a story told in bold releif.
All of life is lived like this, in the past imperfect. Until we no longer live. Then our past is left to someone else to interpret.
We discussed our own collective habits, my brother and I. He’s always been an organized person. But this house cleanout motivated him even more.
I’ve been perpetually tossing stuff ever since my wife passed away three years ago this March 26. She turned to me in the last month before she died and said, “Chris, I’m sorry about all the junk.” At that time, I did not know what she meant. We simply had a lot of, stuff.
But it’s okay. If we’re smart, we whittle down our existence to the point where we are comfortable with what we own. And let that be that. Then the things we do choose to bring into our lives, we know are either valuable or temporary.
It’s best to re-use, recycle or re-purpose. Yet there are times when things just need to be cleared out, and the story closed. Life is lived in chapters, but you don’t need to keep every book around just because it was printed.