A house is not a home

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We are in the process of clearing out our mother’s home. It is not easy work.

After all the fuss of the funeral had settled, my sister Emy and I settled down to the job of sifting through three-plus decades of junk that had accumulated in this, our childhood home. I say we but really my sister has been doing all the work; I have taken the less physical role of sifting through the paperwork that arrives with a death in the family. So while I wade through the insurance forms and the family registry and the charitable donations, Emy sorts through my mother’s closets.

They are deep, those closets. Our mama was a fashionable lady with many a social appointment, and she kept all of her fancy suits and ballgowns and hats. Hats. Who wears hats? As for the outfits, we would keep them if only our mother was over five feet tall. I just can’t walk into a meeting in pants with a knee-high crotch.

Throwing out trash is a complicated affair in Japan. We have a large chart on the wall that explains the highly detailed procedures. Here are the instructions from the Kobe ward office for throwing out diapers;

Remove waste from paper diapers, wrap them in newspaper, put them in in a small plastic bag, then into the large plastic bag. (Wash waste down the toilet.)

Like, right. I’m going to scoop out the crap from my baby’s Pampers so I might throw out a used but clean disposable diaper. Uh huh. And the Pope cleans his own shoes.

Anyway, late this evening we put out what the government calls “bulky garbage.” The old vacuum cleaner; fishing poles; the desk with the bullet holes (from the time our house was shot up in a yakuza gang fight—long story).

It’s so strange. We feel we’re trespassing on a life. Would she approve of us throwing out this cracked vase? Did she want us to keep this silk scarf over that one? We are stripping this house of the very things that made it a home. But of course it was never a green glass clock or wooden shelving that made it a home. It was a smiling little person, and she is already gone.