Senior Curators: Our Family Museum

Hello everyone! Sorry that I have not posted lately. I was traveling for my graduation, and was soon swept up in the pre Christmas madness that always seems to ensue when December starts. Anyways, I hope that everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season.

Recently, my grandfather celebrated his 95th birthday yesterday, only a few days after returning home from the hospital. I thought that was deserving of a few words on my part.IMG_0076

My dad’s parents bought and moved into their house in Hawthorne, California in 1947, the same year my dad was born. They never moved. The
neighborhood changed around them, while they remained. My dad and his sister grew up there, and although they did not move far away they always knew where to find their parents. We had many Thanksgivings, birthdays, and visits in their home.

IMG_0080 Being in the same house for that long, one can imagine that they accumulated a lot of stuff. My grandmother Betty grew up poor in Los Angeles during the depression, and learned to save everything for future use. She was the original working woman of her time, and was the most formidable woman I will ever know. My grandfather Marv grew up on a farm in Northern Minnesota, and nothing ever went to waste. He was a veteran of the Navy during WWII, and was one of the most honorable men I will ever know.

In 2012 Betty’s dementia reached the point where she had to go live in a home, leaving Marv on his own. She passed in her sleep less than a month later. We soon found out that the house was filled to the gills with shoes from the 50s in their original boxes, candles, pans, calf skin riding gloves- anything your heart could possibly desire in every color, and in three various sizes.

The house was cleared out, and made suitable for Marv’s walker to navigate through. We wanted to help get rid of all that clutter, and clean now that we had the opportunity and excuse to do so.

A few days ago I sat in Marv’s living room alone, waiting for my parents to come with him from the hospital, and for the hospice nurse to arrive. I felt so nostalgic and sad, as that place holds so many memories for me, both good and bad. I try to imagine how my dad feels, having associated that space for 68 years with his parents. I see the VHS tapes under the TV I watched as a kid, and the couch I always sat on with my mom when we visited. In the corner is the bar where Marv made bourbon and 7s for everyone, and on the table the magazine rack where Betty kept her cooking magazines.

I thought about a book I read last year that had an extensive chapter on senior citizens and their spaces. (I really do adore this book, please check it out here). ‘We are all curators of our own life.” We collect objects as we go along through life; some we keep, some we give away. (My grandparents leaning more towards the keeping side). We display objects in our homes, we clean them, and from time to time we break them. That kind of touch, is powerful to both the young and the old- it defies age.

I am not the only one, who wants to clear the clutter of their grandparents home. But I begin to notice things that strangely familiar to me. I see that like my dad, Marv likes hats. His stack of hats is not so different from my dads rack of hats. I see that like me, Marv keeps what he uses frequently within reach so it is easy to grab. Like my partner, he likes magazines and keeps stacks of them around the house.

So why is it okay for us to curate, but not our elderly? I am no expert, but this is my theory. In our minds, seniors are sick and need help, and we want to transition their home into a more clinical setting that feels more appropriate to us. We want to change their spaces, when in reality, they have their spaces the way they want them. It’s confusing and stressful for them to have that kind of change. Just as their house triggers memories for me, it does for them as well. Their spaces have made a transition from a house where things happen, to a living shrine memorializing what did happen. A museum devoted to the life of their family. Now my grandparents were curators within their own right, and everywhere I look in their home I see bits and bobbles that are physical proof that they lived, and lived well at that. They made a home for their family, and since then always made sure that we were safe and taken care of. Now, it has been our turn to return the favor, and take care of them. Of course we want his home to be safe for him to live in, but I still need to remember that it is his home, filled with his things that have an immense amount of meaning to him. He is still metaphorically a curator, and his house more of less his museum.

So happy birthday Grandpa, and thanks for bringing something I read about to life for me. Many of the good things in my life are thanks to you. And thank you reader for making it through this blog about my family and a tenuous connection with a book I read!



Live long and prosper.

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