Friday, January 15, 2016

Mama's attic

My brother can accomplish anything he wants-- when he wants to. Last week, he asked my mother to please clean out their attic. I think his exact phrase was something to the effect of, "Before you and Dad die, please clean out your attic and do not leave it to Wife and me."


Only Brother can get away with saying something like that... even better, do you know what happened?

They cleaned out the attic.

Mom and Dad hired their trusty worker bees to make the 77 trips up the trap door and back down again, lugging trunks from the 1800s (you just think I am exaggerating), old toys, boxes of keepsakes, love notes between my parents, and boxes and boxes and boxes and more boxes of .... stuff.

There was quite a bit in the Christmas decor department.

There was old furniture- with green tweed upholstery, and old cabinets from when Dad cut them out of the kitchen.

Stuffed animals. Lots and lots of stuffed animals. Old cancelled checks from before my grandfather died. My grandfather-- who died in 1962. Let's not talk about the automobile expenses from 1957-1958 on the old Studebaker and the Grandmother's old Cadillac with every single ESSO receipt where either my grandmother or grandfather filled up on a regular basis for $1.12.

Not to mention Doris, Grandfather's secretary-- she got paid $28.66 a week. By the time of his death, she would get a pay raise to $35.48. Let's hope inflation was better to her than to the others. Doris got paid more than Janice, the secretary before her.

One of those old trunks from the 1800s held my aunt's Madame Alexander dolls and handmade doll clothes. Not knowing what I was getting into, I threw open the trunk to find six arms, doll stuffing, and three heads practically melted together. One eye peered at me from under a moth eaten lace dress. I swear it blinked in the sunshine. There were loose arms with fingers that had long separated from the body. I screamed and dropped it. The arms and fingers rolling out as it hit the garage floor. I kicked them and screamed again- like seeing a cockroach kind of scream. They landed in the dirt of the front yard, straight in the air clearly clinging to life.

Dolls can be scary when you are not expecting them.

There were painted portraits of my great-great aunt; Aunt Irene and her husband, Uncle Herb. Looking at the picture of Irene from the mid-1960s in that white frame and off-white backdrop, Irene is wearing a green shift dress with gold collar necklace, I can so clearly see my grandmother in her face. Dad has a ring made out of Irene's wedding jewelry that Irene's son gave him before he died.

Her husband, Herb, adopted Irene's son from a previous marriage- Lynn. Herb was so well decorated from both World War I and World War II that General Douglas MacArthur publicly praised him for his bravery and selflessness.

And then there was a box of stuff that was of a modern era. "Modern" being a loose word for Brother and Wife and those two famous words: High School.

Electing first to go through Brother's, mostly because he did not want to mess with it, notes were read and twenty year old gossip was spilled across those loose leaf pages as I sat on the kitchen floor. Girls dotted their 'i's' (excuse the punctuation imperfections) with stars and my 35 year old eyes can so clearly see their hints at 'like' for him, whereas- those 18 year old eyes might have missed it.

And then there was my box... or, rather, my three Rubbermaid bins full of the keepsakes that proved I was once young. Young and foolish. Young, foolish, naive, and incredibly fortunate. There were love notes (don't you worry, those are coming out), and my high school sorority jersey. "SMACHE" sewn on the back with a big pink #3 on that white jersey only completed the oversized greek letters on the front: Phi Delta Sigma. There was my rat tail, diaper bag, and bottle. For giggles, I tried on that jersey and it was a little smaller than I remember, or maybe my bosoms have just gotten bigger? Either way, it still fit and I am wondering if it would be funny for it to work its way into the T-shirt rotation.

Memories of songs crossed through my mind... Phi Delta Sigma the best sorority, I'm an ... you know the words, everyone! Sing Along!

There was a Cotillion jersey from Social, pictures of footballs players whose names I had remembered and faces I had forgotten, and more notes from algebra class. Kids are going to miss out on the most fun thing about the socialization from high school: passing notes in class. Texting is not nearly as much fun, and the perceived danger therein of passing notes in classes and hallways. The reality is, texting and all other sorts of technical communication can go viral in a skinny minute and a life can quickly be ruined. Give me notes any day.

I learned a lot in high school and very little had to do with what the teachers taught as we sat in the desks of our grandfathers's youth. I learned more than just the polka, Shakespearian sonnets, and reciting the Greek alphabet backwards by the light of a lone match. I don't think it is until recently that I realized that those times were times I learned how to interact with peers and people.  Those times were the times that taught me the beauty of being young and innocent.

Young, innocent, and so very fortunate.


If you are a grandparent and are reading this-- take a moment and think about what might be in your attic. Do you want your children going through those boxes when you are gone?  Or, do you want them to be overwhelmed, grab everything, and throw it away without giving it its due course? Do you want the love notes between you and your spouse spilled across the kitchen floor? Old dolls and proof that you, too, were once young and foolish for the eyes of your children? No. No you don't. And they don't want that either. Take a moment, a lot of moments actually-- and get everything out of your attic. EVERYTHING. Decide what is trash, what is a keepsake, and what needs to be burned.

Sit by the fire and read your old love notes. I watched my parents as they did this and I had no desire to see what those young hands wrote to each other. One by one, those letters were read, laughed at, and tossed. They are still young enough to remember and appreciate that time in their life, but old enough to know that those things needed to go!

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