Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

When I was in my early twenties, I moved house a lot—different roommates, different apartments, different towns, different states, different countries—and it quickly became obvious that there is a peculiar arithmetic attached to the process of changing residence.

No matter how much you have when you begin the move, you always arrive at your destination with less. It’s not so much that things get lost in transit (though that is a factor); it’s that when packing up, you tend to evaluate every object. Do I need this? Do I want it? Do I even like it anymore? Items that fail to make the grade are sold, donated, given away, tossed, or just plain abandoned.

For my first move out of my parents’ home, I took several pieces of furniture, four instruments, a rack of clothes, and a dozen boxes filled with household goods, papers, books, LPs, letters, and memorabilia. By the last of my youthful relocations, though, I had pared it all down to a mattress, two instruments, a suitcase of clothes, a backpack of toiletries, and three ratty cardboard boxes (one each for kitchen, books, and memorabilia). If pressed, I could pack up and be out the door within three quarters of an hour (faster, if I decided to leave the mattress behind).

Since then—after I married and found steady work—the pace of the moves slowed until, back in 1997, we moved into our first non-rental home and vowed never to move again. This new-found contentment did not, however, stop us from repeatedly culling the herd. The thing about owning a home is that you always accrue sufficient belongings to fill it (and then some), so periodically we still reevaluate and downsize our possessions.

I’ve written before on these pages about household purges, and we’re in the midst of one now, a big one, as we simultaneously prepare for retirement, redecorate and renovate the house, cast off clothing that’s way too big, and clear the shelves, cupboards, and cabinets of anything we no longer use or no longer want. In almost every way, we’re simplifying, and there’s a liberating feel to it. It’s rejuvenating, filled with all the excitement of a move but with none of the anxiety. And because it’s such a big effort, I’ve been digging deeper into the closets and storage spots than ever before, which led me to discover something interesting. Through all of these—moves and purges both—there is one area that never gets downsized: memorabilia.

To be fair, my habits regarding the accretion of memorabilia have always been austere, allowing only the most pithy of tokens to be added. As a result, I have only a small cigar box of ticket stubs, a tiny box with remembrances of cats now deceased, a shoebox of old love letters, and a wooden case designed for three bottles of wine that now holds a collection of disparate objects: shells from the Mediterranean, marbles won on my grammar school playground, my old wind-up metronome, a collection of keys from every place I’ve lived, a coaster from a London pub. Very little accrues to this potpourri now—ticket stubs are things of the past, my wife and I generally text “I love you’s” rather than send them via snail mail, and my marble-playing days are long behind me—so when I went through them last week, it was a jolt to the senses. The smoothness of a river-washed stone, the faded delicacy of a love note written on fabric, the scents of pipe tobacco and patchouli, the dull notes of brass keys.

In truth, there’s nothing in there but junk. There is absolutely nothing of any value in these boxes, nothing that could be sold or donated or that carries any meaning to anyone but me.

But they are sacrosanct, unpurgeable, pieces from the museum of my life’s story.

To paraphrase Spencer’s character in Pat and Mike, while there ain’t much there, what’s there is cherce.


PS. Items in photo, examples of said junk/treasure, anticlockwise from lower right:

  • Buttons from my first visit to the National Gallery, London; my first Ren Faire; and my first job
  • A pair of hand-made spectacles (for a medieval feast)
  • An acorn from Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, PA
  • Two first place ribbons from a jazz competition
  • A pair of dragons from my model building and RPG gaming days
  • A long-stem hobbit pipe
  • Wooden interlocking Escher lizards
  • A wooden car pilfered from the Toy Museum, Camden, London
  • A miniature brass Cupid, a gift from an old friend
  • A pocket copy of The Merchant of Venice, ex libris Vera Roads, West Australia, 01Jan1906
  • Stage fairy dust, given to me by the man who “flew” Mary Martin in the Broadway production of Peter Pan
  • Hand-painted pewter figurines, from our wedding cake

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In my house there are four boxes.

Four special boxes.

First, there is the God Box, a small cardboard box covered with embossed white paper. It contains the prayers my step-mother wrote to her deity during the last years of her life. It’s a difficult box to visit.

Then there is the Poem Box. It’s flat, the size of a billfold, and it contains the poems my father wrote after my stepmother died. It, too, is a difficult box, filled with despair and dark thoughts written in days’ early hours as he precessed from a broken future toward his own demise.

Recently, I received an incongruous box. A wooden half-moon with a clasp, japanned and decorated with 19th century-style chrysanthemums, it fits easily in two hands. It is from the estate of my recently deceased brother, and while it is totally not like him in style, its contents—pipes, Malian artifacts, a bracelet of broken silver—most definitely are. But, like the other boxes, visiting this one is also a sad journey.

The fourth box, though, is different. (more…)

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