My Pack Rat Legacy

After some quite heavy posts I decided to do a lighter post of something that has been on my mind lately.  We all are left legacies from our parents.  It could be monetary, property, ideologies, ethics etc but let me tell you about one of my parent’s legacies to me.

I’m quite sure you have all heard of pack rats.  I always associated this term with someone who collected all kinds of stuff and had a houseful.    I decided to look up the origin of the term to see where it came from.  There is actually a pack RAT – the furry kind.  It’s often called the wood rat.  And yes, it does have a habit of collecting things.  It apparently has large pouches in its mouth and it will gather all kinds of things it sees as treasures including having a special liking of shiny objects.  It will also drop one object from it’s mouth if it sees something far more interesting and so is in the business of always trading things for other things.

Sounds very familiar doesn’t it. Now I understand how the term “pack rat” got attached to humans.  Many of us are indeed well-established pack rats.  This included both my parents but especially my Dad.  He was a pack rat in the truest form! (except he was not covered in fur!) He saved everything and anything.  Our house was full of files of cut out newspaper articles, books, magazines, pamphlets – including pamphlets to disney world in about 1972 that I discovered in 2011 when we sold their house.  I even am the grand owner of the official guide to the 1967 Expo in Montreal! I found the papers from the day man walked on the moon, and when world war 2 ended.  I even had every person’s registration card who ever stayed at our family’s hotel on the Gaspe – hundreds and hundreds of them.  The hotel was torn down in 1969.   Dad could never throw anything out.  He always imagined a use for it “someday”! I think he lived in fear of what I read in a definition of the word “junk” recently.  It defined junk as something you keep for years and then throw away 2 weeks before you need it!  That was Dad’s worst nightmare!  He worked as a custodian at a public school and as he swept the floors and cleaned the classrooms he would find pencils, erasers, pens, and all sorts of trinkets lost by children.  He brought these all home instead of throwing them out like he was supposed to and they found a home in his desk drawer.  It was pencil heaven.  When we cleaned out his desk my brother and I found enough pencils and erasers to supply a whole school!  Mom and Dad loved garage sales and every Saturday for years we would all pile into the car and with great anticipation hit the road running.  I must admit I am a garage sale junkie too and found many, many treasures I still have to this day.  Mom was not immune to this pack rat mentality ( although she will deny it vehemently).  When we cleaned out their house,  I must have found 60 plastic and glass vases in the downstairs cupboard.  She loved to arrange flowers and so having a collection of vases to choose from was right up her alley.  She also collected curtains and refitted every set of windows in our home on the Gaspe  with new curtains.

The crawl space in Mom and Dad’s house was a pack rat’s delight. It was chock full of old popular mechanics magazines,  old radio parts, books galore, and to top it all off it was the burial place for every appliance that kicked the bucket.  PLUS it was the resting place for every box that every appliance or other item that entered the house came in.  Dad figured you might just have to take it back someday – like maybe 10 years later???  Despite the overwhelming job of cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house ( I still have packed boxes in my garage 8 years later) my brother and I had to chuckle over our apparent legacy.  A lot of it escaped the dumpster sitting in the driveway that became full but much had to be disposed of.  An interesting thing that happened during the selling of their house, was that we had to get the wood fireplace inspected and properly documented.   The stove itself had very little markings on it to help us and we were missing a very important code that the inspector needed.  As we were panicking over how to find this and we could find nothing online, I decided that knowing my Dad, he may have just kept info on it in his files.  So I took to going through his filing cabinet  – and miracle of miracles I found a pamphlet on the stove with all the information we needed.  Now THAT’s where being a pack rat really came in handy.  Dad always believed if he saved things they would come in handy later – even 20 years later!  Although cleaning out their house was a nightmare, I do not resent my pack rat legacy.  In fact I look at it with great fondness.  As we were growing up,  if my brother or I ever needed ANYTHING for a school project or other project Dad would go looking around the house.  Sometimes he had to look for a while but he ALWAYS came up with what we needed.  That was his way of being there for us  and showing his love.

I must say that not only have I inherited much of their pack rat items, I have inherited the pack rat bug.  I am probably a worse pack rat than my parents.  I am a prolific collector.  This may be due to my autism because I am always collecting things.  I have many collections on the go at the same time and this can make it a bit challenging in the financial department.  Some of my former collections included,  a rubber boot collection, a winnie the pooh collection, a cat in the hat collection, heart collection, rock collection, stamp collection, and of course books, books, books.  Today my collections include shoes, clothes including leggings and fancy tights,  pictures of all sorts, card making supplies, japanese paper, blue and white china, pillows, sheets, fuzzy  blankets, jugs, cats, kettles (I know, I know, you can only use one at a time!) silver rings (would be handy if I were an octupus), and of course books, books, books.  My little townhouse is getting fuller and fuller!

I LOVE my collections but I am getting fed up with the clutter.  I am doing some serious thinking about what I really want to keep and what is time to give away or sell.  I recently purged 100 items from my house but you would never know it.  I think those with autism are particularily fond of things – often more than people.  I think this is true with me ( don’t get me wrong friends, l love you too!!)  I also think that as I go through this time of anticipatory grief while I look after Mom, my collecting and attachment to things has ramped up full force.  It is a distraction from the pain, and it also provides comfort however fleetingly.  My books are my most precious collection as I think it brings fond memories of both my parents who were voracious readers.  My hoarding of books is a legacy from my parents I would not give up for anything.  Each book I have speaks of their love to me.  They did not know always the best way to love me but their love shone through in their sharing of books with me.

So why all this talk on being a pack rat?  Well, I think when you have already lost one parent and am dreading losing the other sooner than later, you get to thinking about what they really meant to you.  What were the things that made them so memorable in your life?  Who are you now because of having been their children?  What do you carry on in your life that they handed down to you?  These are all questions that become front and centre when your parents are no longer around.  You wonder who you are – what qualities you have of your parents and what values of theirs you hold etc.  It’s a bit of a soul searching exercise.

In my case,  being a pack rat has certainly been taken on by me from my parents.  I’m probably worse than they were.  I guess the question we wrestle with is what of our parent’s legacy do we want to keep and what do we want to give lesser importance to.  Funny, because that is also the pack rat’s constant question concerning his things.  So maybe right now I am a pack rat wearing 2 hats – one as an official pack rat and one as a  person deciding what my parent’s legacy will be in my life.  A very interesting place to be.  More on this in my blogging as I do a bit of that soul searching.  One thing for sure though – in the next couple of days I will be searching for 100 more items to get rid of.  My cats and my Mom are safe if you happened to wonder!

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