Packing up Aliyah for her move to New Jersey took three months, and, in reality, we are still not done.
Upon graduating from college, she shipped five boxes of books down to Washington, DC to her grandmother, for pickup later. Then out came the books from her room. Astronomy books and Tolstoy, endless numbers of Dickens novels, books on constructing northwest Indian baskets, six volumes of Will Durant, books of Renaissance maps, Tamil phrasebooks, Jack Londons and Alexander Dumas'. There were dog books and horse books and bird books and insect books and math puzzles. Dictionaries of musical biography, art books on Gauguin and Cezanne and medieval churches, how-tos on oboe reed-making, embroidery, and weaving. Shakespeare and Cervantes, Garcia Marquez and Jane Yolen. Books in Italian, German, and French
The books continued to be carried out to the living room. The two dogs sniffed at them in bewilderment. We ran out of our local supply of boxes, and called a librarian friend who came to the rescue. We ended up contributing seven boxes full, 278 lbs., to the new community library set up by homeschoolers in southern Oregon after the regional library system shut down for lack of funds. There were still more books. Books related to peace, nonviolence, and social activism were donated to the Quaker Meeting library. After all this, there were still six boxes of books to ship to Princeton (we are grateful for the post office's Media Mail), including rare editions of Alice in Wonderland in Latin. The Princeton library has only 6.4 million books - these will come in handy.
We weren't close to being done. There were wire sculptures and wire sculpting tools, ceramics, reed-making equipment, and woodcarving sets. A hefty box of wool, silk, and other weaving materials. Then there is the large loom (it is now in the closet, awaiting further instructions). Costumes. Two dozen hats. The giant dragonfly wings from a community Procession of the Species of many years ago are still mounted on the ceiling. The Celtic harp is out on loan. The oboe has been placed with her former teacher, in the hope that a student may be found who may wish to purchase it. The 8" Dobsonian reflector telescope, built by Aliyah and my wife when she was eight-and-a-half (my daughter, not my wife!), still looking like a large cannon painted robin's egg blue, has now found a long-term temporary home with a seven-year-old homeschooler, together with all the lenses and star finders. We now have a lending library of violins and violas.
Clothing! Snowboots from when she was 10, pants from when she was 14. Old unmatched socks. Ragged tee-shirts. A black-and-red English wool cape. Mittens my wife had knitted. Indian sarees and salwar kameez (you'll have to look that one up). A dress Aliyah had woven. When it came to clothing, a single old oversized suitcase, with various sweaters, shirts, shoes, and haberdashery tossed in haphazardly was all that was necessary for the trip east. A box of keepsakes and letters given to her when she was one. And some silver wrapping paper, her favorite gift from before she could walk.
Stuffed animals, puppets, and dolls took a trip to Goodwill. We couldn't part with Agi the Raccoon puppet, Aliyah's very first playmate, nor with Susan Cowfish (a stuffed salmon, not of the eating variety.) A squash racket in nearly mint condition, a reminder of my lack of success in engaging her in my sport, or any sport for that matter, outside of bird watching.
Then there were the papers, plaques, a trophy from winning a music composition contest when she was 12. Since the National Archives isn't open to her memorabilia (yet!), they'll never know what they're missing. Her floor was littered with wood shavings, unbent paperclips, staples, pins, and an occasional earring, all suggesting that it wasn't safe to enter with bare feet. We are still finding traces of Aliyah all over the house, and I expect we will continue to for a very long time.
Moving Meera, in contrast, took all of two hours. Physically, that is. For weeks, lists had been drawn up and discussed, primarily with my wife Ellen, of what was going and what was staying behind. The clothes were all hung neatly, as always, or presorted and folded in drawers awaiting inspection. The shoes were lined up by color. The gymnastics medals and trophies were all neatly stashed in boxes. CDs had all been transferred onto MP3s or the computer. Jewelry in one tidy box.
Meera shipped one box via Media Mail. It contained all of eight or nine books, mostly unread, and kept not so much for their information value, but rather as keepsakes of peace and social action groups she had supported, presents from friends and admirers, souvenirs of her trip to Egypt. Quarter of a box. The rest was taken up with piano music: Rachaminoff, Chopin, Albeniz, Granados, Schubert, the complete Mozart sonatas.
There was another box. All shoes. 45lbs. worth. Meera insisted it had to be shipped via Priority Mail - her shoes would set foot on the American University campus before she did.
That was it. The floor was already spotless. The desk was clean, ready for the next user. The drawers were all empty. Her Italian "PEACE" banner in rainbow colors was still draped across the window, and camel's hair rug weaving from Cairo still on the wall - after all, she would still be coming home for vacations, and the room couldn't be left bare if it was to be acceptable to guests and visitors. She is not gone, though. The 6'2" 1926 Mason & Hamlin grand piano will still loom large in our living room for many years to come. Sigh. I still can't play. But Ellen is threatening to take up, and a call to old friend Mark Almond ("Piano for Quitters" - www.pianoforlife.com) may be in the offing
Of course, as we were helping to pack the kids up, Ellen and I were in a certain sense packing ourselves up as well. What have we learned that will help us on our journey, even as our children continue on their own? What mysteries have we uncovered for ourselves in the process, and what mysteries yet await us?
I know one thing for sure: I have plenty more to write.