Emptying the house she grew up in was tough for Marietta McCarty but she also found joy during the process. She’ll talk about her experience clearing out her childhood home at WMRA’s Books & Brews - Tuesday, November 13 in Harrisonburg at Pale Fire Brewing Co. and November 14 in Crozet at Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery. WMRA’s Chris Boros spoke with McCarty and asked her about the first day she started going through the house.
WMRA: What was it like when you pulled into the driveway of the house to start emptying it?
McCarty: That was a really sad day because I beeped the horn and then I realized immediately that there’s nobody here to welcome me. And fortunately I had the greatest companion of all, my mother’s west highland terrier, Billy – he was so happy to be headed home that I sort of shared his joy. But the beautiful thing for me is that not long after I got involved with emptying the house, it switched from a very heavy sad responsibility to an opportunity because I had so much to learn about the people I thought I knew best and loved best – so much more to enrich me and so many lessons for the old house still to teach me.
WMRA: Did Billy recognize the house?
McCarty: Absolutely – he recognizes the turn off of 64 – he knows as soon as the car slows that he’s headed home.
WMRA: When you started emptying the house, did you have a plan or did you just start getting rid of things?
McCarty: Well I had no plan so the first thing that happened of course is that family took whatever they wanted and I looked and the house was still full essentially. And I began to box things, I began to sort through things and the plan happened rather miraculously and magically and it sort of unfolded. Friends would bring their friends to the house and neighbors would come over with food and bring their friends. So eventually on the last day though the house was empty is still felt just like home to me. It had a warmth about it, I felt that everyone from those 56 years had been with me during these 3 months so it was just a joyful experience all in all.
WMRA: Did you end up encountering things that were difficult to part with?
McCarty: Well if they were difficult to part with they would have been letters and they would have been and very small personal items - my father’s messenger bag from the Second World War, I found short stories my grandmother had written during the depression which are just amazing, one of them is 15,000 words longer than my book Leaving 1203. It is that sort of thing that taught me so much about them and that I have with me now.
WMRA: What are the short stories about?
McCarty: Oh they are amazing – they’re about an imaginary world so it’s this fictional world that she dreamed up and so they’re just amazing. There’s something very intimate about finding things in a home with no one there to explain them and the things themselves speak for themselves and so it’s this very touching way to learn more about the people you’ve known all your life.
WMRA: That’s beautiful about the short stories. Have you thought about maybe publishing them?
McCarty: Sure and I’ve found some songs my mother’s written and she was always at the kitchen counter you’d see her sort of have this slow, slow, step, step, and there’s these marvelous lyrics and some of them were set to music. I didn’t know any of this until I found them.
WMRA: So my own mother is going through the process of empting my grandma’s apartment. I know it’s been hard on her – my grandma has lived there for 40 years. What advice would give my mom?
McCarty: To take her time because she’s going to find out more about her mother and more about her own roots then she knew before. Another piece of advice I would offer is what I call single tasking – just to do one thing at a time because it’s overwhelming emotionally and also physically. And I could have had 6 friends helping and I would say “today we’re just going to do the pantry.” And that was a 3 day job. If you get scattered when you’re doing home emptying that makes it really difficult because nothing ever really gets accomplished because you put on thing down and move onto something else.
WMRA: When it was all said and done and you were in the house and it was empty, how did you feel?
McCarty: Well I dawdled for a while. I patted the Formica countertop in the kitchen and walked out into the backyard. And not far from the house we grew up with and all of our lives we were serenaded by these beautiful church bells. And for the first time in my life living in that house, I heard the church bells peal “Amazing Grace.” And I thought, this is the time, this is the perfect moment to leave.