Strangers Among Us

I suspect that everyone has secrets.  Not the I-once-killed-a-man-and-buried-him-in-my-neighbor’s-backyard variety, but simply pieces of their identity that are tucked away in the recesses of their being, like valleys in a rumpled blanket.  These bits of our loved ones rest in the shadows not suspected or detected by even those closest to them.

For several weeks, my spare time has been spent helping my family clear out my grandparents’ house.  It’s now been over a year since my grandma passed away, but the lagging real estate market served as the perfect excuse to procrastinate “let it be.”

Other circumstances changed, forcing the inevitable:  dismantling the earthly remains of two beautiful lives (who liked to keep stuff…lots, and lots of stuff.)  It feels odd pawing through their personal belongings, separating “trash” from “sell”, but I’ve largely been able to detach myself from the task at hand.  And I have a deeper appreciation for the minimalist lifestyle 🙂

I’ve discovered that what I knew of my grandparents was only the surface of who they were.  Through the remnants of their lives, I feel like I’m being introduced to strangers.

I’ve written about my grandpa and how he liked his sweet Nestea.  I found out just how much when I discovered five unopened 10-pound bags of sugar in his bedroom.  I knew him to be thrifty, but had no idea he purchased clothing on sale – even if it wasn’t his size – and stored them in boxes in his closet, while he wore thread-bare shirts with holes in them.  Yesterday, I found out the secret to his always perfectly knotted ties on Sundays:  clip on ties.  Grandpa was a private person who did not leave clues as to his hopes or dreams, so I can only wonder.

On the other hand, my grandma left us a few surprises.  A manila folder held pages of old poetry.  A yellowed sheet of music with hand written musical notes and words revealed a song she had written as a young woman.  We found evidence that she continued sketching after taking an art class in the 1990s.

Artwork entitled 'He Is Risen'

I had no idea she possessed this artistic side.  It does explain her interest in a poem I had published in a college magazine many years ago.  I never thought to ask if she wrote poetry, too and she never mentioned it.

Thankfully, the Grandma I always loved was evident in what she left behind.  The boxes of greeting cards she received throughout the years, crossword puzzle books, eclectic music CD collection, and at least forty cookbooks (with nearly as many dieting books).  Most striking, though were the eight remaining bookcases in the office that showed her love of God and devotion to learning His word.  She never went to college, but she studied inches-thick books that analyzed every book of the Bible.

One shelf, with about 31 friends
More books, without a bookshelf home

I tend to keep my vulnerabilities to myself.  I’m probably more open here than I am in person.  In fact, my family (except hubby) doesn’t even know about this blog (and hubby’s never read.)  In his defense, I told him if he read it, I’d have to kill him 😉  It does make me wonder how much I don’t know about my family and friends.

I hope God blesses us all with the ability to ask the right questions and listen to what is said (or not said) when talking to friends and family.  Those we love should not be strangers, and we should not be strangers to them.


20 thoughts on “Strangers Among Us

  1. suzicate December 4, 2011 / 8:09 AM

    You have the opportunity to let yourself be known…even through your blog! I didn’t let my family read my blog at first…but they found out and I’m surprised at how many read it. I find a part of me comes out through my blog that probably doesn’t in person. I think we tend to write ourselves without realizing it. You can save your writings and gift them to your children some day.

    • jannatwrites December 4, 2011 / 2:19 PM

      It’s great that your family reads your blog. I think the main reason I haven’t told my family abou the blog is that I like the freedom to write what I want without feeling like I have to meet real or imagined expectations. It’s only a matter of time, because my nine year old knows about the blog (since I’ve done a post or two featuring his pictures) and he likes to talk…a lot!

      I like the idea of giving the kids my writings. It’s much better than making them dig for it after I’m gone 🙂

  2. nrhatch December 4, 2011 / 10:52 AM

    Just because we don’t know everything about someone else doesn’t mean that they are “strangers” to us.

    Some “secrets” are just “fluff” . . . NOT worth sharing or knowing. If we understand who WE are . . . we are ahead of the game. 😀

    That said, I don’t have many secrets ~ I am who I am. My family and friends are welcome to read my blog . . . but most don’t. BFF reads most posts (when I step away from the computer long enough to give him a chance). And my sister reads posts that interest her.

    The rest are happily engaged in living life and don’t feel the need to “hang on every word” I choose to share on SLTW. That’s cool. We all have different paths to follow and CANNOT live our own lives if we are too focused on what others are doing, saying, or being. 😀

    • jannatwrites December 4, 2011 / 2:42 PM

      You’re right – some things, we’re better off not knowing, Nancy!

      Let me clarify: I don’t think we should know everything about our friends and family. But if my quiet, shy friend secretly dreams of learning to Salsa dance, or my homebody friend would like to travel the world if she won the lottery I would love to know that. They are different facets of their personalities that I wouldn’t have thought existed. I would be sad to find out these things after they passed away.

      I don’t expect anyone to hang on any word I write – or say (good thing, because I’d surely be disappointed :)) but I do like the interaction by way of comments. I’m not suggesting that we get so wrapped up in others’ lives that we lose ourselves…only that we are tuned in enough that we don’t miss clues to the previously unseen personalities of those we know.

    • nrhatch December 4, 2011 / 7:16 PM

      I think THAT’s the key, Janna . . . we need to LISTEN deeply enough to really HEAR what they want us to HEAR.

      If friends choose NOT to share something with us (no matter how hard we LISTEN), it may be because they like hugging that SECRET to themselves.

      • jannatwrites December 5, 2011 / 10:43 PM

        And some secrets are best hugged tightly, Nancy 🙂

  3. pattyabr December 4, 2011 / 11:22 AM

    I have been sorting through clothes to give to the Goodwill this weekend. I was talking with colleagues last week about junk in our houses. They all admitted they had their share of stuff that piles up and no time to sort and toss. Since I have been working full time for the past 11 years it gets more and more difficult to spend time off from work sorting through stuff. I do my fair share of shredding and tossing stuff and we made huge strides this past year with remodeling our basement, but it feels never ending.

    Friends of mine went to an estate sale this past week of a 62 yr old woman who had died suddenly. She was single, had an excellent job, apparently traveled to Europe extensively, and had exquisite taste in home furnishings and clothes. Her family did not sort through one item in her home and turned it over to an estate company to sell. My friends discovered a beautiful 1st Communion dress with a special pin that was something worth keeping. They pulled it out and gave it to the manager in charge of the estate sale and said that the family should keep this heirloom. My friend grieved in relaying her visit, stating that she wished she had known this woman during her life because she enjoyed her home and belongings. She was looking at a life well lived but unfortunately not cherished by her family.

    I am so happy that your grandparents have you and your parents to cherish their lives. That is a gift.

    • jannatwrites December 4, 2011 / 2:57 PM

      There were times that my parents were just ready to see it all go away because it has been overwhelming. We’ve done at least ten loads to the dump and the house is still pretty full!

      I couldn’t imagine not looking through everything, as in the instance you described. Of course we cannot keep everything, but it’s nice to have a few mementos that hold significant memories of them.

      Aside from the useful items like office stuff, I picked out a couple of 4 inch tall bowling pin trophies that my grandma won during her years of bowling, and there is a a gold plated tie pin that my grandpa had from the refinery he worked at for most of his adult life that I would like to have if my mom or my aunt don’t take it.

      As for the house clutter – I’m fighting that battle too, Patty! With all the cleaning over there, my house is falling behind, but I’m motivated to get stuff cleared out, that’s for sure 🙂

  4. Debbie December 4, 2011 / 4:50 PM

    You’ve raised some interesting points, Janna. I suspect “hoarding” was ingrained in your grandparents’ generation (“waste not, want not” and all that). Still, it’s hard for those left behind to have to wade through their “stuff,” trying to decide what to keep as mementos, what to donate to charity, and what to trash. It’s interesting that your grandmother was so artistic — perhaps you inherited that gene! I suppose it’s normal for us not to open ourselves up except to a certain close circle — nobody wants to be vulnerable to everyone!

    • jannatwrites December 7, 2011 / 10:03 PM

      I just realized I missed responding to your comment, Debbie! I guess I shouldn’t blog when I’m half asleep (like right now.)

      I think the amount of retained stuff could have something to do with their generation. You’re right, though, it’s quite a bit to go through now.

      We do need to be careful who we open up to, but once we consider the person a close friend, we should take the risk once in a while!

  5. pattisj December 4, 2011 / 10:08 PM

    That’s interesting you found your grandmother’s poetry and artwork. Those are the kinds of things I would treasure. It’s nice that your family has had time to go through things, too, not rushed and tossing aside in hurried fashion. You’re unpacking their lives that have been neatly stored away.

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2011 / 10:44 PM

      There was (and still is) a lot to look through. I’m sure I’ll find a few more things that I would like to keep if the older family members pass them over.

  6. apoyando December 5, 2011 / 5:16 AM

    Very interesting post.
    Our encounters with old people telling stories of their time can be very fascinating sometimes. Thanks to that unusual mystique that surrounds their behavior. Its always a fun to try methods to solve them layer by layer.
    Your most reminds me of a book I read lately, “Thanks for the memories” by Cecelia Ahern.

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2011 / 10:47 PM

      You’re so right, Apoyando – older people do have a lot of stories from years of life experiences (if we find the time to listen, or ask the right questions.)

      Thanks for the visit and sharing the book title!

  7. LittleMissVix December 5, 2011 / 7:08 AM

    I don’t think anyone knows everything about the people close to them but it’s nice to share the important things and I guess if you know their heart you know enough. I just recently shared my blog with some friends, I was scared but they were really supportive so I’m glad I did!

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2011 / 10:48 PM

      Good for you, Miss Vix! I’m so glad they are supportive of your writing 🙂

      My curiosity is a bit much…no matter what I know (or think I know) I want to know more.

  8. Barb December 6, 2011 / 9:38 AM

    Easier said than done! What if you get blank or, worse, amused (as in “she’s crazy”) stares when you try to tell them about your dreams and what you’re doing to achieve them? What if you have a “cold” family that made you become cold and numb – and an old spinster? It’s a little better with friends, but some can’t keep up with change… and again you get the blank/amused/scornful look.
    The Depressed Chameleon

    • jannatwrites December 6, 2011 / 5:26 PM

      Barb- We do have to be careful about what we reveal and to whom. If the person has a history of lack of support, of course you wouldn’t open up to them. If your family or current friends aren’t people you could open with and be yourself, I think some new friends are in order (sorry, you’re stuck with the family ;))

      The blank stares every once in a while are to be expected. Not everyone likes what we write and we don’t agree with everything someone else says 100% of the time, so it makes sense that there are times people won’t ‘get’ us.

      As long as you are happy with your direction and what you are doing to achieve your dreams, it shouldn’t matter what the detractors say anyway. In fact, it could be a motivator to urge you to work harder to prove them wrong. (And that feels good, doesn’t it??)

      • Barb December 7, 2011 / 12:43 AM

        That’s what I’m working for! 🙂
        But when it’s a whole country that stares you like an alien…
        I need a foreign husband, LOL! 😀

        • jannatwrites December 7, 2011 / 10:06 PM

          The whole country? Aw, come on Barb…you have to be exaggerating just a little 🙂

          Maybe the foreign husband is an answer. If you’ve got the same motivation you have for your writing, I’m sure you can make that happen (and get a fun blog post or two about it!)

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