The Xerox box was packed to the brim. The lid jiggled as if it had a mind to fly off and expose its miscellaneous contents. This was Dad’s usual parting gift as we headed home after a family dinner. We had spent the evening at the house where Mom and Dad, Nan and Pop to the grandchildren, moved when I left for college. The spacious one-story had more room than the two of them needed.
Dad converted a spare bedroom into an eclectic gallery for his collectibles. He filled the room with a variety of slot machines, pinball games, and other arcade attractions. Wooden shelves held vintage cast-iron penny banks. A bobblehead in Dad’s likeness wiggled whenever a bank was activated.
Dad’s personal mementos covered the painted walls. Photos of the grandchildren were scattered among appreciation plaques from non-profits. A photo from world champion boxer Archie Moore, was signed “To my Blood Brother.” My grandfather’s tattered Peddler’s License from London was mounted on green felt.
The joy taken in displaying his memorabilia did not carry over to keepsakes from my youth. Many of my too-good-to-toss items remained stored in a closet in their home. I would momentarily well with outdated nostalgia when digging through the closet. Then the louvered doors were closed with my childhood memories secure.
That shelter was dwindling with the passing of each box. One by one I lined them up on the garage shelf after arriving home,
Years later, the boxes are still untouched. I have avoided exploring them as it would undoubtedly lead me down a rabbit hole. I wanted to keep those flashes of youth protected.
But history has a way of repeating itself.
My children have been long gone from this house and both own large homes. Yet they have left a Hansel and Gretel trail from the garage to the rooms where they did their homework, listened to New Kids on the Block, and slept until noon on Saturdays. Their old spaces appear exactly as they were on the day each one left for university.
Stuffed animals still rest on my daughter’s bed. Autographed baseballs and soccer trophies sit on the trunk-like table in my son’s room. The closets and drawers are full of statement T-shirts, fad clothing from the nineties, and fluffy animal slippers.
When my children recently visited, I tried Dad’s technique. I gently prodded them to clean out a drawer or two, fill a cardboard box with their keepsakes, and take them home. I was careful not to sound too anxious.
This was like asking a teenager to empty the garbage. My request was snickered at and then ignored. I let it rest.
Later that afternoon I resorted to a half-hearted warning to trash their belongings. They responded in unison with shock. “Mom, you can’t do that. Those things are important. They are part of our upbringing” they pleaded. “You have to keep them here. Maybe next time we can take them.”
Their message resonated. These independent, accomplished adults were unwilling to cut the umbilical cord. I quickly backpedaled. I concluded that the small footprint left ensured that the road always leads back to their childhood home.
Now past and present are blended in our crowded garage. The shelves droop under the weight of years of relics. The contents within these boxes hold the story of three generations.
Dad’s moth-eaten college sweater and Mom’s dance invitations are intimate touchstones I kept of their life before me. The boxes with my high school yearbooks and dried wrist corsages are a map of my coming-of-age. The bins next to these with my children’s baby clothes, letters to the tooth fairy, and their report cards, tell their story.
Yes, it is hard to let go.
My husband listened to my unheeded suggestions to our offspring. In his pragmatic, sensible voice, he uttered wise words, “Why does it bother you if the closets, drawers, and shelves are full of their stuff? We don’t need the space for anyone or anything.”
His point was well-taken.
I needed to acknowledge what these keepsakes really meant. Each item occupied a tiny area in my heart. The costumes, yearbooks, sweaters, and greeting cards were tangible verification that we existed–Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.
There is no plan to donate, trash, or recycle any of these sentimental items.
When we are gone from earth my children will have the monumental task of inspecting and sorting the contents of all that has been saved. I hope they will savor the opportunity to walk in the path of their grandparents and their parents and remind each other of the joys of their own childhood.
Then they can trash it all…
Or they may find a corner in their garage to save a box or two.