my grandma's house

May 4, 2009

my mom and i live on the first floor of my grandmother’s house in chicago. she and my grandfather bought the house on a quiet side street in the then-mostly-puerto-rican lincoln park in the 60s for $26,000. now the property alone is worth more than a million, thanks to gentrification! last winter my grandmother went to live in the suburbs with my aunt, so they are trying to sell the house.

i do not support this sale for several reasons (my attachment to old things; the status of this house as an “antique” or “heirloom” in my mind; the thought of displacement; not to mention the most horrid time in this country’s history to sell anything…). my mother and i worked on cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment upstairs, sorting things, preparing for an estate sale, keeping the things that remind us of her the most. the other side of the family doesn’t really want anything, so we’re trying to salvage what we can.

for my mom i think this was the hardest. she grew up in that apartment and is now forced to go through all of her old baby clothes, magazines, trinkets, old nailpolish bottles and newspaper clippings and decide what’s most “important.” all of these things were to her immigrant parents the products of hard work (3 jobs at a time!), saving and doing anything possible to realise the american dream of owning a home and everything that goes with it.

i’ve been trying to document the process, and originally wanted to meticulously catalog each and every thing she owned. some may call her a “packrat” or a “hoarder,” but to me that sounds too negative. i think of her more as a “time preserver.” i was talking to april about all of this and she said something that i really appreciated–everyone always considers packrats and junk collectors to be weird, as if something is wrong with them for possessing all of these sometimes old and dilapidated things. but what’s so wrong with it? we wouldn’t have any connection with our past, their past, all of those memories, without these old relics to look back upon. what would be in museums? where would we find inspiration for the future?

so this post is dedicated to the living memory of my grandmother, her love of material goods, thrift stores, and working as hard as she could to make everything possible for her family. now i know where my passion for junk came from :)

here are some images of her things:





my grandma made a lot of clothes, curtains, pillowcovers, blankets, etc. she saved all of her fabrics, including pieces still attached to tissue-thin pattern cut-outs. lots of sewing, knitting, and crochet projects were wrapped up, unfinished, in plastic bags and suitcases.


her plant jungle



lots of old mail


macrame, a butter dish, and some gigantic glass jewels


her cross on her bedroom door

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