Last weekend was a weekend of Getting Things Done.
Not only did I make these:
Not only did my husband and I get to spend some good Quality Time together…
Not only did I get a Good Handle on my Super Bowl Party Plans…
But my husband and I also tackled a Much Dreaded Task: cleaning out the basement.
You see, Internet, when my in laws visited over Thanksgiving, they were kind enough to bring us an entire moving truck full of beautiful furniture.
Okay. The ENTIRE moving truck wasn’t filled with furniture. Part of it was filled with boxes. Boxes, in turn, filled with Childhood Detritus belonging to both my husband and my sister-in-law.
Let us skip over the sister-in-law stuff quickly. Suffice it to say that she went through all the boxes with her name on them, chose some stuff to discard/donate, and chose other things that we will keep until she… has a house, I guess?
My husband did not have time over Thanksgiving weekend to look through the boxes with HIS name on them.
In fact, he did not have time to look through those boxes until last weekend.
It’s been a painful few months, Internet. Months of me hating the basement and LIFE ITSELF whenever I passed all the boxes.
Now? HOLY BATS IN A BELFRY does our basement look 1000 times better!
I sat with him, in the basement, as he went through all the debris of his childhood and decided what to keep and what to toss.
It was pleasant to sit there and watch his face light up as he uncovered a once-deeply-loved toy… to see the past slide swiftly across his face as he read through the newspaper story covering his game-winning high school touchdown… to imagine the soft blond hair and chubby cheeks of a toddler superimposed on the whiskered slant of his strong adult jaw.
We flipped through pages of reports and poems and stories he’d written. Laughing at his idea, as a child, of what made for an interesting plot twist. Marveling at his writing skills as a teenager. Smiling over the college application essay that brought him one step closer to meeting his wife.
I tried to sit there quietly, listening patiently as he flipped through old wrestling cards, watching tolerantly as he sifted through boxes of Ghostbusters action figures and He-Man fortresses, expressing adequate awe over his collection of trophies, weeping briefly and softly over the proud, loving messages scrawled in his graduation cards.
I tried not to weigh in on what he should keep and what he should toss.
Because nostalgia is a funny, deeply personal thing.
It can’t truly be shared, not unless you’re sharing it with someone who was right there with you, in that moment. (And even then, the song playing on the radio will stick out in his memory but not yours; you may remember with shocking clarity the dress you were wearing and the drink he sneaked you from the bar, while he might remember the bright moonlight and the unseasonable cold.)
And even when the person sitting beside you loves you more than any other person in all the lands… Even when she wants to know every heartache and triumph of your past… Even when she cares about every speck of dust in every corner of your heart…
She may find it hard to understand why this newspaper needs saving and that book can safely be placed in the library donation box and this name plate is a precious memory but that trophy should go on the junk pile.
She may struggle with wildly opposite desires to a) throw it ALL in the trash – because really? Do you really need to keep those Dick Tracy figurines? – and b) keep EVERY LAST ITEM because these are cherished memories of a childhood you will never recover, dammit.
She may never fully get why that folder of high school football plays is so dear to your heart. She may have trouble keeping her mind focused on the city-by-city recap of your middle school trip to France. She may have to paste a big indulgent grin on her face as she reads through Valentine’s Day cards from your high school sweetheart.
But by God! She will make you sit on the very same stool in the very same basement five months from now when her parents deliver an entire trailer of memorabilia from HER childhood. She will request that you give her old cheerleading uniform and English essays and academic bowl plaques your undivided attention. And she will want you to listen closely as she skips happily down memory lane, Blueberries for Sal and My Little Ponies and 4-H ribbons clutched in her hands.
The musty scent of the caboose from an old train set. The rumpled fur of a threadbare stuffed dog. The scuffed leather of a pair of running shoes.
Worn and shabby, long forgotten, swathed in cobwebs, each vessel brims with treasured moments, notable years, entire childhoods.
Taken out, dusted off, reminisced about. Then gently tucked away again, to be found decades later, maybe never.
Part of me wonders, why save these things? They matter, truly, only to you. They are mirrors that reflect the past only to you. They represent glory and true love and safety and togetherness, but just to you. To others they are only objects.
Sure. A child, a sibling, a grandchild might someday pull out these prized possessions and regard them with interest. But the insight they offer – the window into what makes you you – will be superficial at best. And these fragments of personal history are more likely to be a source of inconvenience and irritation for whomever has to sort through them than to be a source of delight. (When they ARE prized by the grandchild, it will be because they stir up nostalgia for her own past. This is the [ ] that belonged to the grandparent she loved and lost.)
Part of me wants to save all the things. Devote a few shelves, wall space, a cabinet or two to personal mementos.
That seems like a sound idea. But… Where would we showcase my pom poms? Where would we keep the handwritten pages of my husband’s college thesis? How many shelves would we need to hold all my collectible Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls?
Plus… where do you draw the line? What’s display worthy and what isn’t?
This is how hoarding happens, isn’t it?
The biggest part of me simply wants to prolong the nostalgia as much as possible. It’s a pleasant sensation, after all: falling back in time. Tasting, for a brief second, a pure emotion wrapped snugly around a shard of memory.
Maybe we should set a date on the calendar, Nostalgia Day, to go through all the boxes. Page through our recollections, keep them fresh. Cloak ourselves in that hazy fog of reminiscence.
Of course, that might dampen the effect: a long-forgotten object gets much of its charm from a thick layer of time and dust. Not to mention, going through old boxes once a year sounds like quite a chore.
No. I don’t think nostalgia is something you can plan. It’s rarely something you can share. And it’s fleeting.
I suppose that’s why it feels so lovely when it washes over you. And leaves your skin singing with longing when it drifts away.