My late wife was always the one who supervised the family’s home relocations. She was the brigadier general of boxing, the captain of caching and lieutenant of leaving nothing behind except dust bunnies and the occasional lost button.
After buying a new house near Tennessee’s Highland Rim, not far from our family’s ancestral community, the responsibility for moving devolved on this recently widowed and bewildered old man. In her wisdom, my spouse had already boxed and stored much of the treasure, trinkets and junk of our 40-plus years of married life. This happened before she became ill. But she knew we were coming home after many years and decided to get a jump on things.
In November as she lay in the hospital’s ICU, the movers arrived at the storage facility to unload a daunting volume of furniture and boxes. I was too focused on her condition to worry about opening and sorting through the small mountain of home goods and memories.
So for the past six months, the legacy of relocation has awaited me: dust gathering on the furniture and the boxes mute on what might be inside. At the last, when her illness was making the expenditure of energy difficult, she stopped labeling boxes or scribbled “MORE OLD STUFF” on the outsides.
I decided, when it was time to move the mountain of cardboard containers out of storage, I would not worry about the contents. The new house has a large basement with drive-in garage. With plenty of room to stack the Oden family’s version of an old-fashioned five-and-dime store inventory, I began transporting boxes of our life together.
Thus I deluded myself into thinking there was really no secret to physical family relocation, not a grand strategy or master plan. You just boxed up, moved and stacked, simple as that. I should have known a new angel was looking down from Heaven and laughing.
Getting into the spirit, I also began boxing things at the house where we lived together for too-short a time before her hospitalization. “Nothing to it,” I told my brother. “With enough boxes, you could conquer the world and ship all the loot back home in cardboard.”
As the day neared for me to lock up the rental house and put behind me the sadness of living there without her, I went into boxing overdrive, even considering whether the two cats could be containerized and shipped with a label on the box that read: “Do not shake or stack upside down.”
My sons and I carted loads of boxes like gypsies on a caravan route.
“What is all this stuff?” wondered the oldest, as we sweated in 95-degree heat. “Was Mom a hoarder?”
“No. She just found it hard to throw anything away that had sentimental value.”
He opened a box and looked inside. “There must be a thousand wine bottle corks in here!”
“She planned to use them for arts and crafts.”
Finally, the morning arrived when the move would be complete. I arose and prepared for work, showering and shaving with the knowledge that a chapter of the book of my life was closing. I was preoccupied, of course, so it took me a while to realize the problem. All my clothing had been boxed and moved to the new house, including my underwear.
I stood there -- clean, deodorized, cologne-spiced -- but naked and incredulous. Only a pair of dirty drawers, sweat pants and stained T-shirt separated me from Adam... and I had a meeting with my boss first thing. God did not ding Adam and Eve for their bareness, but I was not going to chance it with the CEO.
There was nothing to do but don my soiled garments, lock the front door of the rental house and call work to report that I would be late... if I could find my boxes of clothing. If not, I would be absent.
In my mind, I heard distinctive tinkling laughter and knew who it was.
• Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama.