For days we’ve been emptying out my grandparents’ house, my home for 24 years and my mother’s for 50, piling pictures and furniture and antiques, sending only necessities to my mother’s smaller new place. I had to pump music to keep from crying. It’s hard to go through our things and sort them into “keep” or “garbage,” because if I had it my way, I’d keep everything in a magic box under my bed, like my grandpa’s big gloves that remind me of him pushing the snow plow up and down the block, because only he would clean the sidewalk for every single neighbor. I’d keep every baseball card and decorative plate my grandmother saved—and there are hundreds—because she was a collector and a fan and thought they’d be worth something someday. She has been gone for 14 years and my grandpa for 6, but it’s still hard to look at their things and stick them in the “donate” bag.
When my grandfather passed when I was in college, I was so sad that I never asked him what cologne he wore after years of falling asleep on his chest as a kid or, as I got older, whenever we embraced. I thought the scent had been completely lost to me forever, but the other day while I was going through his things, I found his travel bag from his semiannual trips to Puerto Rico, and nestled inside were his bottles of cologne and aftershave. I stared at first in shock, like I had unearthed gold, and as soon as I uncapped one and breathed in, I felt a combination of sadness, comfort, and relief. I failed to hang on to his house, but I will keep the little things.