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Smartmom’s Memorial Day memory of her great dad

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The meaning of things has been much on Smartmom’s mind of late. Since Groovy Grandpa’s death last September, Smartmom, Diaper Diva and their stepmother, MiMa Cat, have been going through his things and struggling to decide out what to keep and what to give away.

The process is wrenching, but necessary. For Smartmom, there are memories sewn into every one of his cashmere sweaters, his Ralph Lauren polo shirts, his Perry Ellis suits. Needless to say, Groovy Grandpa was a snappy dresser, and a random item of clothing can evoke a birthday dinner at Po, a weekend at his country house, or a trip to Belmont, a Racing Form under his arm.

She could even smell her father on some of his clothing, and that gave her pleasure, but also made her immeasurably sad. No wonder grief experts caution the importance of waiting until you’re ready before going through a loved one’s clothing and personal effects.

MiMa Cat found it difficult and upsetting to see the clothing in his closet every day, so a few months ago, Smartmom and her sister did the deed. They saved some clothing for Teen Spirit, who loves to wear his grandfather’s suits and elegant shoes; they gave some to Hepcat, who loved Groovy Grandpa’s taste in outerwear, and they packed up the rest for the Housing Works Thrift Shop.

Even now, it gives Smartmom pleasure to see Teen Spirit wearing one of Groovy Grandpa’s ties, one of his button-down shirts, a pair of his white bucks or wingtips. And to see Hepcat in one of the Barbour raincoats that Groovy Grandpa brought back from a trip to Scotland is special beyond words.

In the back of one of Groovy Grandpa’s closets, Smartmom discovered boxes and boxes of old jazz 78s that Groovy Grandpa had collected when he was a teenager living in Los Angeles. Smartmom could just imagine him, a connoisseur of great music and an inveterate collector, going from record store to record store in West Hollywood picking out his favorite music by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Lester Young and Sidney Bechet, and then dragging them home in a shopping bag.

Smartmom knew that those treasures had traveled from LA to his college days in Berkeley then cross-country to the city of his birth, and later across the Brooklyn Bridge to his apartment in the Heights. Apparently those records meant a lot to him.

Smartmom had a fight with Diaper Diva that day. MiMa Cat didn’t want the 78s and Diaper Diva wanted to take them to Housing Works then and there. Smartmom wanted to just leave them in the back of the closet to delay the inevitable.

“We shouldn’t make any decisions yet about the records,” she told Diaper Diva. “Let’s just wait.”

There are often differences among family members about what to do with a loved one’s things. Some, like Hepcat, are wildly sentimental and can’t bear to part with anything from the past. Some are completely overwhelmed and just want to give it away and sell it.

Some like Smartmom, become paralyzed and find it too difficult to make what feel like irrevocable decisions.

But that day in Groovy Grandpa’s apartment, Diaper Diva was on a mission. It’s not that she’s unsentimental — it’s just that when she starts a job, she likes to see it through to the end. Undeniably, there were tears and ugly words were exchanged through gritted teeth. No fighting, no biting, the twin sisters can launch in and out of a fight faster than a speeding bullet. Finally, the sisters reached a compromise and put the boxes in Diaper Diva’s Volkswagen Passat; they would decide over the next few days what to do.

Smartmom thought about keeping them, but she has no room in her too-small apartment, which is teeming with things Hepcat insists on saving from his past.

In the end, Smartmom and Diaper Diva gave the 78s to a good friend who has a 78 player in his country house. He promises to take good care of them and let Smartmom and Diaper Diva come up anytime to listen to them or take them back if Teen Spirit decides that he wants some of them.

Smartmom has come to the conclusion that you can’t save everything, nor would you want to. It’s important to be selective about it and keep things that will be meaningful to herself and her family.

For Hepcat, she saved the best of her father’s photo books.

For Teen Spirit, she saved all the beat poetry books and the works of Rimbaud and Verlaine. But also the shoes and the seersucker jackets.

For the Oh So Feisty One, she selected the fussy but gorgeous red cut glass wineglasses that belonged to her middle namesake, Groovy Grandpa’s mother, Ethel.

As for Smartmom, she took every single notebook (with his copious and unfortunately illegible notes about what he was reading) and every single photograph and slide he ever took, including his interesting (and secret) art photography that she is a great appreciator of.

As the archivist of her father’s mind, she has also kept all of his unpublished creative work. Most importantly, a book of poems for children that he wrote in 1994 called, “Animals You Haven’t Met Yet,” rhymes about made-up animals like the Aunteater:

He hasn’t any interest

In your uncles or your cousins

But never let him near your aunts

Because he eats them by the dozens.

Words don’t take up a lot of space. But in those wonderful poems Smartmom has more of her father — his humor and his creativity — than she could ever hope to keep.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
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Reader Feedback

Michael Steinman from outside of Brooklyn, alas says:
Those 78 records are sacred and beloved artifacts because your father loved them, held them, watched their spinning labels, heard the music deep down in his self. But you did the right thing: if you kept the records in the closet, they would become merely THINGS. Having given them to someone you trust who will listen to them and keep them carefully, they have another life. The things we can no longer look at are like the people we can no longer have breakfast with -- somewhere else but kept in our memories even more so. I have a jazz blog where I explore not only the music but the players: look for my recent posting about the saxophonist Ben Webster and you will see we are both on the same path. Cheers! MS (www.jazzlives.wordpress.com)
June 1, 2009, 10:13 am
Louise Crawford from Park Slope says:
Thank you Michael for you beautiful comment. I really appreciate what you said. Warmly, Louise Crawford
June 1, 2009, 12:52 pm

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