THE BLOG
05/01/2014 06:56 am ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

Sandwiched

This post was excerpted from I SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORT by Annabelle Gurwitch.

I arrive to find my mother in a state of high anxiety. My parents' home sold within weeks of listing it on the market and they are completely unprepared. My mother is intent on getting rid of everything she owns; if I'd shown up any later, my parents might be sleeping on Tatami mats.

The house has been eerily emptied out. Luckily, the time has passed when her possessions held an appeal for me, as it's come to my attention that my own furniture is aging me. Having a house full of antiques can seem winningly eccentric when you're young, but just the other day I caught sight of myself in a mirror sitting in a rocker from the 1930s and wondered what Grandma Moses was doing hanging out in my living room. Wearing vintage clothes when you are vintage is a double negative. The last thing I need is more old timey-time ephemera, but I feel something I might even call grief in the pit of my stomach.

My mother ushers me into the garage, where card tables are piled with items she wants to pass on to me. It's the kind of clutter the Grey Gardens set designer culled to re-create the dilapidated home of Big and Little Edie. Of the objects I can identify, there are chipped dishes and bowls, moldy books and a miniature Scales of Justice, something everyone's dad had on his desk in the seventies.

That feeling in my stomach is growing into something I might call despair, but what can I do with this stuff? The tradition of preserving family heirlooms such as they are, is something that may disappear in the coming years. A citizen of the digital age, I can't imagine my son will either have room for or want to keep the photographs of relatives whose names have been forgotten, not to mention the other crap I've acquired over the years. Must do a major purge when I get home, I tell myself as my mother and I pack up boxes for either Goodwill or the large Dumpster we've rented.

The object I feel the most affection for turns out to be a brass ashtray from the seventies. It still has ashes in it. Either they've never cleaned it or someone is still smoking. I don't ask. I shove the ashtray, ashes and all, into a brown paper bag to take home with me.

I spend several heated hours convincing my mother not to get rid of her dining room furniture. Even though we've yet to determine where they'll be heading, I tell her it's safe to assume that they won't be living in a yurt and will still need a surface to eat off of and something to sit on.

My parents are completely flummoxed by small details. How do we get the gas turned off? How will we get electricity turned on when we find a new place? How do we get new phone numbers and how will our social security checks find us when we get to wherever it is that we're going? It frightens me to think of them continuing to live on their own. If they don't know these things, how have they been managing their day-to-day affairs and what else are they unsure of that I don't know about? While I'm there, we learn that a condo located nearby has become available for a short-term rental. Even though we still don't know what they can actually afford as none of their finances are in order, they must vacate the house, so my sister and I advise them to take it. My parents react as though we're shipping them off to a senior internment camp. Mom suggests it might be easier if we just leave them on the side of mountaintop.

Each day I make phone calls to utility companies, but if I leave the house for even an hour, I return to find my parents have undone the work I've just completed. It's impossible to convince my parents that they can retain their email addresses. "Dad, your email address has nothing to do with your modem," I tell him. Even my father, who has always been an early adopter, is stumped. "Email comes in through the computer, which is connected to the modem, which farms it out to your phone." "How can it possibly work that way? What if you're not near the modem when you get your emails? What about people who don't own a computer and only have smartphones?" But it's no use. I arrange new phone numbers for them as well, but by the time I arrive back in Los Angeles I learn they've jettisoned them even though I'd already distributed the new ones to our family members and all of their medical providers.

These are the same people some politicians claim would benefit from privatized retirement accounts and a health-care voucher system. If I wasn't convinced of this already, I know these things are all code for "more things my sister and I will need to do for our parents."

I can only hope that my son, who already programs my iPod, will have more patience when he has to do something similar for me. "Mom, the chip embedded in your thumb doesn't need to be reprogrammed when you move!" Where will I be headed when that day comes? With my lackluster savings, probably an elder hostel in Costa Rica.

It's only as I am packing to leave Miami that I fully take in that this is the last time I'll be in my childhood home. The feeling the pit of my stomach has turned to anguish. I frantically call the real estate agent to ask if I can keep the brass knocker on the front door. This fixture, a realistically carved, delicate woman's hand whose nails I once painted black, had always been vaguely disturbing to me in the way that a disembodied limb can seem to a child, but now, I want to hold that hand. Alas, I am told the new owners find the knocker endearingly kitsch and so I shake that hand good-bye forever.

I've got my dirty ashtray in my purse as I roll my overnight bag over the pale coral stone walkway and I can still make out the red wax candle drippings from my Rocky Horror Picture Show party that even repeated steam cleanings couldn't erase. But there's no time to mourn because my son's heading toward his first day of his last year in middle school and I've got back-to- school shopping to do.

This post was excerpted from I SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORT by Annabelle Gurwitch.

annabelle gurwitch