The garage sale to end all garage sales

My parents are in the process of retiring, downsizing and moving from Canberra to Sydney.  So last week, my brother and I went back to our childhood home to help them hold a garage sale.

An informal inventory of the house revealed that my mother has enough saris to clothe a small nation and my father, enough carvings of Hindu deities to furnish his own temple (or a few). Who would have thought my mother had time to use all of that Pyrex or my father time to read all of those books. Important philosophical questions were raised such as: why did they have years of Gourmet Traveller magazines in the garage (and if they had a subscription, why did we eat rice and curry every single night for dinner?)

They have acquired and hoarded as people do, and watching them let go was telling. For example, my mother took most of my father’s possessions to the garage and thought “they” were done. My father asked her if she would like to sell him too. She smiled but didn’t answer.

In my mother’s pantry I found tinned food that expired in 2001. Prying it away from her (as she shouted, “I can still cook with that”) I remembered how every morning she would prepare dinner, cutting vegetables with the precision and elegance of a surgeon. I found the old diaries that she used to note down recipes. Apparently there’s an iphone app for storing recipes now but it won’t have the fragile texture of an ancient manuscript or the smell of roasted cumin. My mother rarely says “I love you” but every time she visits me in Sydney she brings me food.

In my father’s office we found something that looked like a Commodore 64 and teaching videos. He seems to have been collecting tongue depressors, medical swabs and surgical gloves – because you never know when you might need to dig your way out of all those patient files with a tongue depressor, clean your paper cut wounds with a swab and then fashion your surgical gloves into entertaining balloon animals for your grandchildren. My father rarely says “I love you” but every time he sees me he wants to tell me about a book he thinks I’d like (and give me a tongue depressor).

And then there were the things my brother and I wanted to keep for ourselves and for our children. We wanted:

  • my father’s first microscope glasses. My parents’ career defined us. It took courage to leave Sri Lanka, to migrate to a country that could still remember the White Australia policy, and to build that practice. It took courage, drive and determination and we grew up fluctuating between wanting to be like them and not wanting to be like them. Now I hope we are like them;
  • the sign on my father’s surgery door that bears the name of both my parents. Both are doctors but my mother supported my father’s career, putting hers third and making us her first. I grew up thinking that that choice (or necessity) was not for me. Now I realise it is and hope I can do it as well as she did;
  • a book about the travels of Marco Polo that my father won in 1953. I like to think of him, a runt of a village boy in ill-fitting hand me downs, reading that book and imagining the world he would one day conquer; and
  • my mother’s recipe diaries, finally revealing the secrets of Aunty Nagi’s coffee trifle pudding and the pathway to Love By Cholesterol.

Most telling were the things that were not sold, recycled or thrown: a lifetime of photos, every letter and postcard my brother and I sent them, every school report and merit award, a selection of books,  a 1977 Breville jaffle-maker and a whole lot of saris.

If any one needs a carving of a Hindu deity (or several), let me know.

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About Shankari Chandran

Six years ago we returned home from London to Sydney with our four young children and life has been chaos and comfort chocolate ever since.
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11 Responses to The garage sale to end all garage sales

  1. Reema says:

    Gautam and I would love to see the deity collection. I actually keep all the kids work from school and with each move and no storage I have to let go….. It’s funny how we pride ourselves for being practical and then get so emotionally attached to materialistic things!?!
    As usual a wonderful piece…..
    Please write more often..,…

  2. Those Breville jaffle-makers from the 70s are THE best.

    I can tell you there is a WHOLE world of quilters and stitchers who would fall down dead to get their hands on those saris.

    • duckformationfamily says:

      I know! Can you believe it is still working brilliantly? I hear you about the quilters and stitchers – how would I find them? (Of course first I would have to convince my mum to part with some of them…)

  3. Sonia says:

    Such an entertaining read. You make me want to laugh and cry, a skill! Love to see you soon. Hope you are managing the juggle.

  4. Cherie says:

    I have just discovered your writing through Mamamia and I’m now a fan of your blog – I love to read your entries! I can relate to EVERYTHING you talk about in terms of being a mum … so funny and so true! I would love to be a writer and blog all my thoughts, but lack energy and confidence. Keep up the great work.
    Cherie.

    • duckformationfamily says:

      Thank you so much Cherie, I lack the energy and confidence daily but it really helps me to know people are reading it and enjoying it. Often once I get stared the writing becomes energising and I feel amazing for having done it (even if the writing itself is not amazing!). Anyway thank you again for reading it. the first ever exercise my writing teacher gave me was: sit down and write for 5 minutes, non stop about the word New. So I wrote a list of “New” things – the new writing class I was doing because of the baby I had lost, the new baby I desperately wanted, the new people in my class who would be listening to my writing, the new fear of trying something new and not being as good as I wanted to be, the new joy of seeing words emerge in my writing diary, the new freedom of writing but caring a little less about it’s quality and caring much more about it’s existence …. 5 minutes was a wonderful new start. xxx

  5. PK says:

    What a pleasant surprise to see a new post by you Shankari. Your writing never fails to bring a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. What an unexpected and pleasant surprise to see an email from duckformation in my rarely monitored spam folder (I will be telling my computer directly that duckformation emails are certainly not to be classified as spam and are to be placed immediately in my inbox thank you very much!).
    I have recently read and been inspired by a book called “Simplicity Parenting”. It has caused me to enthusiastically embark on what I like to refer to as “Project Declutter” in our household. In my quest to simplify our lives (and in the process “raise calmer, happier and more secure kids”), I think I may have inadvertently become a little ruthless. Your post has given me pause for thought, and reminded me that there needs to be at least a few things left for our kids to reminisce fondly over when they help us downsize in approximately 30 years time…
    Again – just love your work…

  6. Hello
    I found your blog via mamamia. You are such a beautiful and funny writer – thank you for sharing your stories with the world.
    This post made me laugh – it is funny what we keep forever, thinking we may use again.

  7. Jn from NY says:

    I still find it amazing at the thought of your parents leaving everything they knew in Sri Lanka to start anew in Australia. Though, I must say courage must run in your family since it seems you’ve done the same since leaving London…with 4 ducklings in tow.
    You’re doing great and I also love your work!

  8. Lashitha says:

    I love it. My pantry is full of things well past expiry. When you are a migrant, you live by “waste not, want not”. My MIL (mum-in-law) who is very by the book with expiry dates kindly offered to clean out my pantry for me. I kindly declined knowing that my pantry would be empty by the end of her clean out….

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