Any traveller will nod in agreement with this statement: when you are away from home for more than three weeks, you can quickly define what’s essential in your life (lip balm and Q-tips, really). When you have a house for more than three weeks, you can easily be persuaded into different thinking because the space is there and it’s not being hauled around on your back. Having a home base facilitates collecting, gathering, storing/hoarding. However you like to classify it, it’s easy to cloud your streamline stance on “essential” when there is enough square footage to allow for all whims and wants.
Not that Kim and I have become collective since we moved in. On the contrary (we’ve been hawking excess wares on Kijiji)—in fact, the only hoarder on our property is the black squirrel who has turned our backyard Bunkie into a black walnut cache. For any other squirrel who happens upon that shed, they will definitely think they’ve gone to The Other Side with the heavenly hoard inside.
With serious thoughts of moving from the home they’ve been in for 13 years, my parents have a serious winnowing process underway. We’ve passed our house-hunting/moving baton on. Name an obscure place anywhere in Ontario, and my mother has found a house listing there. They have been renting cars for recent house pilgrimages because the mileage they’ve covered already would have taken them to Anchorage, Alaska had they been driving in a straight line.
My parents moving translates into the great-unearthing-of-nostalgia, buried for a solid decade in their attic space. At first the queries came in a phone call format. “We’ve got your old trophies. You still want them don’t you?” Even though I have more square footage than I’ve had in a long while, I still don’t have space (or desire) for trophies. My dad seemed disappointed when my response was so immediate. “Oh god, no! For what?”
And, so, despite my firm “no,” my dad thought I still might like the engraved plaques from each of the trophies, illuminating my soccer, badminton and running career. Surely I’d want the mini-plaques. They wouldn’t take up much space at all.
Next came the call about the papier-mâché collection. I didn’t even realize my parents still had them holed away. And, by papier-mâché, I don’t mean a misshapen grade 3 heart-shaped ashtray and miniature swan. We’re talking larger-than-life size creations: an orange octopus, a hamburger (as big as a coffee table with foam dill pickles to boot), a panda bear and a mosquito with a lethal chicken wire proboscis. “You want them, don’t you?” (Insert melancholy here: part of me will always be disturbed by the anthropomorphism of the Toy Story toys. But, at least the papier-mâché family travelled together to the local dump after one last photo.)
When I calculated the age of the papier-mâché collection, I pegged some of them to be vintage 1987. The hamburger and mosquito were high school art camp creations carted back on a bus from Camp Walden in northern Ontario. Too bad there wasn’t a Mâché Hall of Fame to donate them to.
Then came the cardboard boxes of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume paperbacks, my dog-eared Golden readers and Beatrix Potter hardbacks. I picked out my all-time faves (Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse, Pepper, Flicka) and displayed the Golden Guides that were my flora and fauna bibles as a kid. But, to keep all of them? My mom insisted I return the ones I didn’t want. Which still makes me feel like guilty for adding to their nostalgia cargo.
I struggled more with the grainy old pictures of school chums and road trips to the Grand Canyon. I’ve carted around my own stacks of pictures for years—the stories diminishing and the faces losing familiarity. I had to do a Facebook poll. The verdict? If you can’t name anyone in the photo, it’s safe to turf the pic.
But the newspaper clippings–those were an easy keep. My parents had saved the complete history of my early writing and sporting career as documented in The Brantford Expositor—skipping fundraisers, soccer goals, badminton tournaments, cross country runs. I tell you, I was at my peak at age 11. Hell, I even won a city-wide April Fools joke contest and $25 bucks which must have seemed like a bazillion dollars then. Apparently, I was also the national grand prize winner in Cappy Dick’s cut-apart puzzle contest (no cash– I won a Marvin watch and an Owl Pen according to the article). The Nobel Prize for puzzles I’m guessing.
For several years I was a member of the very prestigious (cough-cough) Expositor Jr. Reporter Club and all my amateur drawings, poetry (oh, ugh) and pre-teen stories of wisdom were highlighted here. I’ve kept these gems for comic relief—and when I eventually get around to writing a memoir, I’ve got proper sources to cite!
Through this whole process of my parents’ attic being brought to life, I’ve realized that living is all about continually sifting and sorting. Emotions, stuff, homes, jobs, friends, lovers. Always refining, reconsidering, choosing the very best of all categories to move forward with.
I’m glad my parents have kept all the treasures they have. (But where is my Owl Pen? I have zero recollection of this one.) Our childhood is well-chronicled, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to graze through my past with so many tangibles.
What have you kept? What do you wish you still had? How big is your emotional attic?