My grandmother’s refrain was she had nothing for me. There was nothing. No papers, no music, no dresses. She knew this because it had all been thrown out of an attic window straight into a garbage bin. One day Auntie Kay called and told her that she had to come over right way because the people that owned the old Ross house on Church Street were renovating. Everything that had been left in the attic was unceremoniously being tossed through the window and falling into a garbage bin.
My grandmother’s sorrowful recounting of this event was as close to an apology she would ever give. She did not heed her friend’s phone call. She could not be bothered to collect her ex-husband’s family papers when it was a perfectly beautiful day to garden. She had divorced that family and was emancipated for having to care for their past attic relics. She announced to Kaye, who was not an actual blood relative but a close friend, that she was no longer responsible. None of Auntie Kaye’s pleading on behalf of the children of the marriage met with any success. My grandmother hung up the phone that summer day sure of her position.
But on the day she hesitantly recounted these events to me, she was sorry. She had never anticipated a granddaughter asking for the very things that were being thrown out that attic window. She was not a sentimental person and she shed no tears, but her eyes welled some and her shoulders slumped. This small gesture of emotion was all she had to give on the subject and she gave it as a final answer. This miniature emotional moment was a nod of empathy toward me and in the next second a declaration for an end to my endless questions. There was just nothing. It had all been hauled to the dump twenty years before this conversation at her kitchen table. She was ordering me to understand she had nothing to share and that I should drop the incessant searching.
I calmly absorbed her story in the moments that she gave it. Since Auntie Kaye had a role in the recounted event I was sure it was true. While I of course mourned this unimaginable disposal of just what I was looking for, my naturally wide stubborn streak refused to accept ‘nothing ‘as an answer. There couldn’t be nothing available because I had seen some. I grew up with four items, three photographs and one cover to sheet music, in the hallway outside my parent’s bedroom. I held to the belief that where there is one, there is more. So unreasonably sure I was of this that I did not fall to pieces on the colossal missed opportunity that she had been party to. I instead gave her a forgiving smile and pushed on. Prodding her memory with more questions resulting in the same pat answers I had always received. I was well on my way to being labelled simply the “pest”.
While the contents of a well stocked attic had been denied to me I was determined to pull the pieces together. Where had these people of mine been? What had they done? Who are in the pictures? What did they do? I did not give up my search, but instead started looking beyond the unknown family attic that had been emptied decades before.