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Prompted By Memorabilia

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When we decided to downsize and move from our home of 45 years to a condo, we never dreamed we would have so much time to sort and travel down memory lane. Deciding what to keep or donate or discard became a DIY project during our #stayathome approach to being seniors who should avoid exposure to COVID-19 at all costs. Every day for weeks, we sifted through years of accumulated belongings and found some great memorabilia.

We dreaded going through our huge basement that held oh-so-many (too many) bins and boxes, so we decided to begin with the third floor and work our way down. The attic yielded photo boards from parties, complete with autographs. There were boxes of old LPs and cassette tapes we were going to take to the used record shop someday. Our kids’ art projects from preschool, from hand and foot print creations to things like this, were jammed into the attic crawl space:

My son made this in preschool. It is dated “March 6, 1976.” Perhaps it was part of a unit on “my family.” At any rate, as a four-year-old, he had a strange understanding of what a psychiatrist did. While he knew his father took care of people, he also thought he spanked them when they did “bad things,” which is weird because his father never spanked him or his sibs for anything. At least he got that his dad loved and cared for him.

Also unearthed – tons of skating costumes and the remnants of my daughters’ Barbie doll collection. My daughters spent countless hours on the third floor of the house acting out dramas based on their addiction to Days of Our Lives. Yes, I was a bad mother. I let them watch this soap and even watched it with them. I let them play with Barbies. I let our son watch The Six-Million Dollar Man, Saturday morning cartoons, and other assorted trash. Somehow, they all went to good colleges and have excellent careers. Two PhDs who are professors and one veterinarian. Not so bad for a mother who didn’t monitor every minute of their lives.

OMG. Look what was hiding in a cubby up there:

Remember when kids played with these Fisher Price little people before they were deemed choking hazards and became large plastic guys rather than cute little wooden creations? Also found in the attic:

In case you don’t remember this product, think back to the pre-computer era. It was used to correct typewriter errors without needing to remove the paper and use liquid cover-up, and then return the paper once it dried and try to line up the correction in the right place. For a hunt-and-peck typist like me, this was an amazing product.

We had already cleaned out our kids’ bedrooms gradually over the past few years. Since none of them had lived with us since the new millennium, it was not that hard to donate the clothes they left behind. But the drawers in my family room wall unit were another matter, as they were filled with all of their report cards, grades K through high school. These were painful to toss, but not surprisingly, none of my children wanted them. They have their own kids’ stuff cluttering their houses now.

We were finally forced to confront the dreaded basement. Into the trash went figure skating plaques and trophies, certificates of accomplishments great and small, Trivial Pursuit and Bears’ Trivia from the 1980s. We also had to let go of a few treasured items that I photographed before tossing. Our daughter who lives in town spent hours culling through boxes of memorabilia before tossing most of it and bringing the rest to reside in her basement. We delivered several boxes of treasures to our other daughter, who lives in Indiana. We visited her and her family back on March 6, our last pre-pandemic outing, when we went there to watch two of her children swim in a divisional meet. Our son in Boston allowed us to reduce his memories to two large boxes, which we planned to ship there before the pandemic struck. They are still waiting for it to feel safe enough to drag them to UPS.

That took care of the back of the basement, but lurking down there was my box of memorabilia which my parents bequeathed to me 45 years ago when we bought the house. I decided it was time to let go of my report cards, bad art, sixth grade diary with only five pages completed, the letter I earned from the Girls’ Athletic Association and my crush scrapbook featuring Edd (Kookie) Byrnes.

But how could I toss my autographed programs from my time as an apprentice (translation unpaid schlepper) at Northland Playhouse:

Tony Randall was the nicest guy, but Gypsy Rose Lee asked me, a 15-year-old, to iron her cashmere skirt

After reducing my memories to one plastic box, I turned to the many boxes I inherited from my parents after they died. There was their wartime correspondence, which had I read and written about before, (World War II Letters, World War II Letters – Marry Me, World War II Letters – How it Ended, and World War II Letters – The Women Who Stayed Behind) that I happily bequeathed to my niece. Photos I didn’t scan because there were no recognizable or identified people in them were tossed. My father’s incomprehensible genealogy research, and stacks of paintings he created but never valued enough to frame or display, will have to reside in someone else’s basement when our house is sold

Our basement also held pieces of furniture retired from use but still important to me. I painted this chair yellow (why?) and rocked all of my babies in it. When I sit in it now, I still feel their warm, soft bodies and smell their baby shampooed heads. I hope there is someone out there who still could use a rocking chair. I’m not sure I have the heart to consign that to 1-800-Got-Junk.

On the other hand, they can have this domino my granddaughters loved when they were in the throes of all things Disney Princess. That’s a memory I’m sure they would like to forget.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your house held a lot of memories for you, Laurie. How wonderful that all your children grew up to be great, productive members of society, despite the occasional soap opera or cartoon. It is funny to see how a 4 year old perceives his father’s work. I’m sure neither of my kids could understand what a management consultant did! Except for the constant travel.

    Thank you for sharing these unearthed memories…so poignant and, in some cases, difficult to part with. You have some treasures there (the correspondence between your parents that you’ve already shared with us). You did have a huge task when you moved, but I hope that going through these old things brought some great memories and also the realization that it was time to move beyond some of it too. Thanks for taking us along for the journey.

    How is your new condo?

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. Now that we are in the new condo with much of our stuff in place, it feels great. Because we had the time to go through things due to staying at home, it was fun to revisit the past and felt good to distill all of our things into a manageable amount. We are now in the process of trying to find places to put our favorite pictures and special things. It’s actually keeping us quite busy for now, which is good.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Given your recent downsizing, Laurie, I was expecting you might just uncover a memorabilia treasure trove. And you have not disappointed, in either word or image. You certainly have covered the whole spectrum of memorabilia, from silly pop kitsch, to family memories to political items that remind us of our better angels. So thank you for sharing with us.

    That said, for reasons I can’t explain, the item I liked best was your autographed picture of Edd Byrnes — who, sadly, died just this past January. RIP, Kookie.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I know, John. I was sad to learn Kookie/Edd Byrnes had died. Looking at the things that interested me at the same age as two of my granddaughters made me realize how immature and unsophisticated I was compared with them. Perhaps it’s the influence of social media?

  3. Such a moving story, Laurie (hah, no pun intended!)…I almost don’t know where to start. Well, first, the slogan on the McCarthy button makes me think to myself, “No, NOW more than ever!” Maybe Biden could co-opt it. Your son’s drawing cracks me up…I just love that face, those eyebrows, and the hands! I remember my daughter’s early drawings had huge joints…knees, elbows. Go figure. And ah, Liquid Paper, couldn’t have lived without it, but the carbon copies were still a problem.

    You are truly an inspiration, and I give you a standing O for your ability to make the decisions you did in winnowing down your massive collection. Now that you’re done, could you come and do it for me? It’s so much more than tidying up a la Marie Kondo, or saving the items that spark joy. Maybe if I had to move I could do it. If not, someone else will probably have to. Sorry/not sorry?

    • Laurie Levy says:

      You are so right, Barb. Now, more than ever we need leadership. Between the Covid-19 pandemic and the racism and riots, I feel the need for change so strongly.

      LOL on getting someone to do it for you. That was my plan — to hire an objective organizer to work with me because my husband has. minimal interest in all of my memorabilia and is good at throwing things out in the moment. But life had another plan for us, and he was forced to participate as we were stuck at home together. Please don’t get rid of your “stuff.” You make such good use of it in your art and your writing.

  4. Marian says:

    I love this wonderful catalog of memorabilia, Laurie, and what timing with the move and the prompt happening so close together in time. Your daughters’ Barbies and the Kookie Byrnes material really made me laugh, and I remember when Liquid Paper sheets were indispensable, even for a decent typist like me. When my mother moved into a senior residence, I took all the boxes of photos, but gave a few to my brother to eventually give to my niece. She doesn’t own a home yet, so we are waiting.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      The biggest struggle for me was what to do with all of my parents’ stuff. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like I have the right to decide to toss their things. So glad my niece took the letters and my brother wants the genealogy research. I’m still struggling with what to do with the dozen or so of my father’s paintings but have until the house sells to decide.

  5. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I had to love your story when you started it with a McCarthy button. My whole life was profoundly affected by the McCarthy campaign, so it always makes me happy to discover someone else who was a fan. Beyond that, I am in awe of you, both for what you accomplished sorting through and dealing with all your possessions before your move, and for writing about it in such an interesting and well-organized fashion. I had a lot of trouble turning my vast collection of miscellany into any kind of manageable story, and you make it look easy! Some day you will have to teach me your secret!

  6. Wonderful Laurie!
    And as I’ve written to Suzy and Barbara, the purger in me now excuses you
    too, I see that saving your decades of stuff, even as now you weed thru it, has given you irreplaceable and joyful memories!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      That’s so true, Dana. Even the things I decided to toss were fun to look at. I took photos of things like my son’s preschool “art” that I really couldn’t take with me. Of course, he has no interest in having it (although he does want all of his sports cards and his Dungeons and Dragons stuff).

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