Note: A version of this column ran in the New Castle Courier-Times on Saturday.
by Donna Cronk
If you've followed recent columns, you know I'm in the midst of an extended home project. Because cleaning out our attic in one sitting is too overwhelming, we're doing it in slow motion.
That translates into one cardboard box, plastic tub, or prized relic a week. I find myself looking forward to that little jaunt up the ladder to see what memories are stirred.
Saturday before last, I delved into a container filled with memory clothes: A favorite blue sweater from high school that I wore to death; a junior-clothing, Brooks-store sundress worn to high school graduation; the "going-away" skirt Mom stitched for leaving our our wedding reception. (Those my age and older might remember the term "going-away" clothing.)
I can't fit into any of them and even if I could, I wouldn't. We parted company.
At the bottom of the tub was a Thom McAn shoe box. On the front in bold-black Magic Marker it read: Donna's tap shoes. I lifted the still-shiny patent-leather shoes and immediately, memories flooded in.
I never had a tap lesson in my life.
Half a century ago, the coolest girls in my hometown were Dixon Dancers, under the tutelage of dance teachers Rita and Joann. Surely those instructors were some sort of goddesses; so pretty, confident and capable of teaching those fancy dance steps. And the costumes! All tulle and fluff, sequins and silk, ribbons and ruffles.
My female relatives were Dixon Dancers, and each spring, Mom and I watched them sparkle in the annual dance review. Those sequin-studded costumes caught the light from a million directions as the girls bounced around the stage. There were square-dance and soft-shoe numbers, probably ballet and modern dance, but it was the tap-dancing that held me.
I loved the click-clack of taps hitting the floor, a sound you couldn't ignore if you tried. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to create those sounds from my own feet and put them to music.
The talent that filled that stage every year seemed as great to my young senses as that on the Dean Martin, Sonny & Cher and Carol Burnett variety TV shows of the era. Oh how I wanted to be not merely a Dixon Dancer, but a Dixon tapper!
It wasn't to be, as my parents wouldn't let me, despite classmate Starla Snyder's impassioned plea during Sunday school class for me to ask again about lessons. (Starla. Isn't that a perfect dancer's name?) But nope, it wasn't an option.
Neither was being a Brownie. I envied Christy Sweeney and her Brownie dress and beanie. She wore both on Mondays, if memory serves, prepared for those after-school meetings in the cafeteria. I missed out on the deep life lessons, but most importantly, on the refreshments and crafts.
I would have worn that uniform with pride!
My folks let me be in 4-H, and I suppose I made the most of that for the 10 years I maxed out my membership. Yet the yearning never waned to be a Dixon Dancer.
So I devised a DIY plan. I saved nickels and dimes (and I mean that in the literal sense as I got 15 cents for sweeping out and gassing up the school bus for my farmer-bus-driver dad). I also got a dollar a week for mowing the lawn; several bucks for the worst job of my life—picking up rocks in the fields for a couple weeks every spring. Summers meant odd jobs around the farm such as painting the white picket fence.
Finally, I had enough saved for a pair of authentic tap shoes exactly like those the Dixon Dancers wore. I walked right into Thom McAn and bought a pair. I must have been a fifth-or-sixth-grader. I didn't even need to prove that I was worthy of such a stately prize. Isn't America great?
If I couldn't be a Dixon Dancer, I could at least play one at home. I could also direct the variety shows my nieces and I put on where we sang songs from every genre we knew: "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man" (gospel); "This Land is Your Land" (folk); "The Charleston" (show tune, I guess); "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Broadway) or "Harper Valley PTA" (pop).
We combined song and dance with our own make-do costumes as well as my nieces' prized Dixon Dance wear. We invited neighbor kids over to view our shows. And of course, there was tap because I had to show off the shoes.
When I found the shoes in the attic, I immediately put them on. They were a little snug, but what's a cramped toe or two for the sake of performance art? So I clicked and clopped around the garage on that Saturday morning in my PJs, still relishing the sound of those taps.
Brian was inside the house, and I half expected him to emerge and ask what in the world was going on, that, "It sounds, oddly, like somebody tap dancing badly. I knew that wasn't possible!"
If he had, I might have broken into a rendition of "I Got You, Babe," and showed him my moves.
He would have thought I'd lost my mind. But I know the truth. I have a long memory lane.
I'm keeping the memories—and the tap shoes.
For the last 42 years, this little piece of (I suppose) 1950s luggage has been without work. It's been an outbuilding or attic accessory. But of course that's not why I've kept it. It's stayed with me because every time I see it, it reminds me of good times for the 20 years prior to these past 42.
This was the little traveling case into which I used to pack my nightie, toothbrush, hair brush and later makeup, along with a simple change of clothes for the next day. It was my overnighter to friends' or relatives' houses.
What it really was, I do believe, was the cosmetics' case in a luggage set. My folks had one or maybe two larger pieces that matched and I have no idea where they are now. I don't even know if they purchased the set or if was handed down from relatives who bought it for, say, a trip to Florida, or for some destination I'll never know about.
I was always a kid who liked to go, to have plans! I can't count the Friday-night sleepovers at my friend Cheryl's house. In elementary school we watched The Brady Bunch, then played with our Barbies until we couldn't change another outfit, and were about to drop over ourselves.
Everywhere I went in those golden days of youth, if I was staying, so was this travel bag. Tells you something about traveling light--one thing you'll never catch me doing now. Even if Brian and I are heading down to Indy or Carmel to see one of the kids, nine times out of 10, he's waiting for me to round up a stack of paperwork, a book I'm reading, a lesson I'm working on, a magazine, a Tervis full of iced water and maybe some other oddball object.
The travel case used to have a very distinct scent; the smell of fun! It no longer carries that; only memories. And that's why it's time to say goodbye. Now don't go and make this harder on me by saying what I could use it for, or store in it, or Pinterest it up, or learn to travel light and use it again.
You see, what I'm doing here is cleaning out our attic, one tub or box at a time, week by week. Brian and I found the idea of a one-day clean sweep of the place far too overwhelming. So instead, I told him about my idea to do it one container a week.
Today is week four. Last week my old prom dresses went. A friend wondered if I would give them to her for fabric to make doll clothes. Nope! They are far too faded and unfashionable. I parted with an old pair of my dad's work coveralls and another dear friend suggested I rescue them and use the fabric to craft a stuffed bear as an heirloom. Nope! I'd just fold the things back up, attach the idea to them mentally and --never do it.
I just need to say farewell to this sweet little memory companion. Now I've got the picture, and even the blog post. I still save many things. I just no longer want to save it all! I've reached a tipping point where there's more joy in the getting rid of than in the saving (and stacking, and putting away, and caring for or not caring for ...).
I'll carry it away one last time to the Goodwill.
For reasons that remain obvious, this COVID year has meant a good deal of time at home. I should be keeping a list of all the oddball jobs we've gotten done around here but the thing about having a house, or for that matter, a residence of any kind, means it's a never-ending battle to keep up with what needs done, let alone hit that list of wants.
So yes, some of our closets are tidier; some things have been gone through and donated such as a vintage sewing machine, or in the case of 40-something-year-old homemade prom dresses, trashed. Much remains to go through, especially in the attic, where such treasures such as those prom dresses (yes, sarcasm) lived for so long.
But because attacking the attic is overwhelming and there are all manner of sentimental, as well as practical, decisions to make, I have a new goal. Attics tend to be either hot or cold. Ours is not the easiest to access and even though I tell myself to beware of those beams, I still boink my head on one every time I'm up there.
I decided to approach the attack in a new way. Once a week, I will select one tub or box, bring it downstairs and decide what to do with the contents. This is week three. Brian even took part this week by bringing his childhood accordion downstairs. Don't ask me what will become of it. Figuring that out is on his list for this week and I will say, he's good about checking off the list.
You do find surprises when you tackle this sort of thing? I actually don't mind the chore because hey, what's one box? Even one full box?--in the scheme of things.
I solved a minor mystery. At my bridal shower 42 years ago, one of the sweet older ladies in the church congregation gifted us with a small painting. Her name was Gladys Rude, and she was well known in our community for her landscape paintings. We didn't have the funds or priorities back then to have such a gift professionally framed so I placed it in an inexpensive picture frame and somewhere along this 42-year journey, misplaced Gladys' handiwork.
For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what happened to it but in this week's edition of What We Keep, I found it tucked away in a box of miscellaneous keepsakes, half of which I tossed. But the painting? No way. I don't know that I'll frame it, but it looks pretty nifty propped inside our glass-front bookcase of my most treasured book titles.
I remember another handmade gift from that shower. There was a beautiful round braided rug made by the late Vivian Clevenger. We used it as a throw rug with little thought to it being a keepsake. It wasn't treated as such. It was made with rags from no doubt repurposed clothing. Truth is, if I'd kept it and washed it right, it would likely still be in service today.
There are other gifts from our wedding that are still used today. I think of the ultra practical yellow speckled plastic mixing bowl from the late Cleo Winters; an elegantly scalloped-edge aluminum tray with wooden handles from the shower committee (Pat Buell was on that committee and is still very much alive and well.) The late Dorothy Boggs gave us a set of place mats, napkins and napkin holders. The plac emats and napkins are gone but the wooden napkin holders remain. I still use the aluminum measuring cups and spoons from the late Barb Kaufman and the mixer from my SIL Linda Cronk remains in use when I need a hand-mixer for a boxed cake or muffins.
The surprises keep me going! Who knows what I'll find next week? A box a week, until it's done.
And now, an original Gladys Rude on display.
It's Memorial Day and I'm thinking of the untold number of soldiers who died so that we could keep our beautiful country, families, friends, and communities living in freedom! This nation has its flaws and has always been filled with flawed leaders and policies, but it's the greatest nation ever known to mankind. I am thankful and grateful to be an American.
I'm thinking of my two favorite veterans today, both having passed on, and remembering how much I miss them. There's my father-in-law Ray, who served in major European-front WW II battles and survived -- he didn't think he would.
There's my brother, Tim, who passed in March. I still can't believe I'm writing that sentence ... Tim served in Vietnam.
I saw something about the history of our hometown on a Facebook page and thought instantly that I needed to talk to him about the cool post... I will miss him every day of the rest of my life.
His ashes were buried in my hometown graveyard, surrounded by plots containing our parents, my brother David, his wife Janet, and precious infants of nieces who have gone on before him. The day after Tim's service, we were told at the newspaper to go home and stay there, doing our jobs from home, due to the virus.
I didn't know if I could. Any success I would have with working from home depended on the kindness of people in the communities we cover. Would people work with me in returning calls to a phone number they didn't recognize? Would they take the time and energy from their own lives as either essential workers or while undergoing challenges of isolation to answer email questions for stories? What about take and send me photos to go with stories?
So tomorrow will be the first semi-normal day I've had since the day after Tim's burial. I'll be back in the office, assuming my normal part-time workweek schedule, although we are still to work via email and phone as much as possible for a while longer.
A couple weeks ago we visited my SIL Jeannie, Tim's wife. She handed us a plastic bag brimming with books. On the outside of the bag it read "To DONNA & BRIAN."
It was from Tim. Tim was an avid reader of all kinds of books, and he would make a selection from his vast library regularly and almost every time we saw him, we went home with a bag of books.
Tim had prepared a final bag of eclectic volumes for us at some point before he passed on ... it felt at once incredibly sad, and sweet -- bittersweet -- to take home those last books he wanted us to have. I'm saving the bag and took a photo of the selection so I would have it and remember Tim's thoughtfulness. Of course I will forever remember Tim. No photo is needed for that memory. But I have some to treasure.
Built into our garage ceiling is a set of pull-down attic stairs. When we moved into the house 21 years ago, stashing things up there that we don't routinely use sounded like a great idea.
Into the rafters went the boys' special baby clothes joined by my prom dresses and Brian's childhood accordion. It seemed an ideal spot for our Christmas decorations, not to mention other off-season decor of fall garlands and spring floral wreaths.
Once Brian's folks were no longer with us, his dad's fishing tackle and keepsakes went up the stairs along with old framed photos and painting prints that his mom hung on their walls.
There were my college papers, a set of dishes and related matching pieces that we bought in the 1970s and I added onto throughout the 1980s, but have been out of style since the early 2000s.
Like interest that accumulates on an investment, time compounded what went up, but rarely came down.
When we moved in, I was under 40. Now I'm over 60. I have no interest in hauling Christmas decorations down stairs, nor in hoisting them back up. I've decided that since I haven't used those dishes in 20 years, it's highly unlikely that I will start in the next 20.
Also, I'm re-evaluating some silly assumptions that caused me to keep certain things. I kept the prom dresses thinking future granddaughters might play dress up with them. Well, I've gotten a clue from friends who actually have granddaughters. Today's little girls like Disney princess dresses that fit—not 1970s attire that doesn't.
About those college papers. Surely a kernel of crazy made me keep them, thinking someone somewhere sometime might enjoy my 1981 essay about the national press covered Skylab. No line has formed. No one has asked to review the hard copy of my college degree.
We're making progress. The Christmas decorations have been sorted and relocated to an indoor closet. The empty, sturdy boxes we've saved that would alone qualify us for an episode of Hoarders are gone.
Yet the attic remains full of landmines. When I lift a lid of an unidentified tub, I might get my breath taken away. That happened the other day when I was met by tiny baby outfits and shoes not seen in a quarter century. The item that got me most was not the itty-bitty blue sweater but the preschool T-shirt. How was it that once the boys reached preschool I thought of them as "big boys" when now I look at that T-shirt and realize they were still so little. But wake up, Donna. The actual, real-life boys are men now.
I'm keeping that lid shut.
There's another tub I'm avoiding. It has a label indicating that it's full of correspondence. These date back decades. If I open that can of worms, as one might also call it, I could be there for days, perched at the top of those steps, lost in the pre-email years, rereading letters about a friend's toddler issues, cards wishing me a happy 30th birthday, or weekly letters from my mother about what was new on the farm, back before the Alzheimer's took her away.
I'm not going to deal with the boys' childhood things. What's there, from Batman memorabilia to special school papers and trophies, will keep until they are ready to decide the fate of their artifacts. Why move things Ben doesn't yet want to his apartment when the ones who will move them to his next place will likely be us? It would defeat the purpose of purging if I had to deal with those containers again and maybe again after that. They can stay where they are.
The attic is a work in progress. It's not a stairway to heaven. Yet for a sentimental fool like me, it has its moments.
This column by Donna Cronk appears in the June 15 New Castle Courier-Times. It is reprinted here.
The Brownsville, Indiana Lions basketball team, 1929-30. It's in the Depression, in my father's high school sophomore year in a tiny town between Liberty and Connersville. My dad, Huburt Jobe, is in the middle row, far right, leaning in. He'd be 106 now. He died at 79. We talked about his basketball days a lot. Why did I never ask him to write the names of his teammates? If you have cherished old photos such as this one, ask your loved ones to ID everyone.
It's the last day of January 2018. My dad was born in January 1912 in the tiny town of Brownsville, Indiana. The separate gym, and the three-story brick school, built the same year he was born, are gone. He's been gone a long time, too.
January in Indiana means basketball season, and in my father's heyday, basketball season was the time of his life. Two years after this photo, he was recruited to play college basketball. I can't help thinking it wasn't so common for a boy from the sticks during the Great Depression to continue his basketball career at Earlham College. He went, and for a while, that's how the ball bounced.
Three years after this photo, Dad's father bought a farm north of Brownsville. For the next half century, my grandfather and then father farmed it, and for 32 of those years, Dad was also a school bus driver.
My dad was more than meets the eye. He was an inventor, could make or fix about anything -- because that's what you did as a farmer. He also studied art both on his own and by taking classes, and he painted pictures. He played chess with a passion, and as a young man, played the violin. He loved to roller skate and taught me.
But basketball was his game. He loved to watch Indiana University play on TV, and whenever something was on television that he really wanted to see (such as IU basketball), he pulled his easy chair close to the TV for a front-row seat in our living room. He always followed our high school basketball team.
By the time I came along, born when Dad was nearly 46, the Brownsville Lions would soon consolidate into first Short High School in Liberty, then Union County High School, which is where I graduated 41 years ago.
My father was something of a perfectionist, or at least that was so in the subjects he cared about, such as math. I hated math and found it difficult. When Dad tried to teach me what my schoolteachers couldn't get through, the sparks flew.
Much to Dad's disappointment, I didn't want to play chess and had no particular artistic talent. So on those topics, I couldn't be his companion. But we had our mutually favorite topics. We both loved our swimming and fishing pond where dad taught me to swim and fish. We both loved having ponies and later, my horse around. He set me up well with those and taught me to ride.
But our favorite shared topic was basketball. In the 1970s, our high school had some fine teams. One year we were undefeated. My senior year and the one after, the Patriots won the Connersville sectional. That was big potatoes for us.
I rarely missed a varsity basketball game in high school, and never a home basketball game. My parents had season tickets, too.
Back at home, Dad and I sat up late and talked over each game. Once we thoroughly rehashed the key plays, shining moments, and outlook for what was ahead on the schedule, then we talked about Dad's years as a Brownsville Lion basketball star.
Those were years still precious to him. We talked about his games, and how the game itself was different back then. We discussed how a big shot from a Connersville factory tried to get my grandfather to move the family to Connersville, complete with a job offer, so Dad could be -- horror of horrors -- a Spartan! Why, that was in the late 1920s and here it was the mid-1970s and we were still outraged by the very notion of such a treasonous offer!
I remember quivering with excitement in the chilly house in the wee hours of the morning over dad's tales, and imagining him at the age of the boys who played for my high school. I never felt closer to him or happier in his presence than those winter nights discussing basketball.
The advice he offered, not what I had expected, is something I've never forgotten.
One year I learned that the Patriots would take part in the Richmond Holiday Tournament. The tourney was a whole year away when I heard the news. This was exciting! What's more, the tournament would include a large Indianapolis school that had a star player. It was as though the rural country kids from Liberty were finally going to get their due and be noticed!
When I heard this, I was babysitting at the neighbors' house. I called Dad to tell him. "I wish it were next year right this minute and we could play in that tournament right now!" I told him.
His reaction took me by surprise. "Don't wish your life away."
Simple. Profound. I have never wished away time since. Not even wish away a bland day in January. Life is too precious and time passes too quickly to miss out on a single moment.
Do you remember where you were 40 years ago today? Gene and Deb Miller sure do. Here's a feature story I wrote for today's New Castle Courier-Times. This is our HOPE edition, a once-a-year project where we pack the first section of the newspaper with good-news stories. If you are in the greater Henry County, Indiana area, consider picking up a copy. Meanwhile, read on.
by Donna Cronk
KENNARD — Exactly 40 years ago, residents of Henry County – and the rest of Indiana – were snowed in or digging out of the worst snowfall in recorded state history, known as the Blizzard of 1978.
But few were as disappointed by the weather as Gene and Deb Miller. Their Friday-night wedding had to be canceled.
“So I had picked Jan. 27 to get married and then the blizzard happened,” Deb said.
Still, Gene, whose career was spent as a carrier with the New Castle Postal Service, didn’t fail to deliver for his bride. Forty years ago today, Jan. 28, 1978, he was able to get to her home in Kennard and the marriage took place.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm began Wednesday, Jan. 26 and continued for days with snow, high winds, blowing and drifting. Indianapolis set a record that January of 30.6 inches of snowfall. Indiana Gov. Otis Bowen declared a snow emergency for the entire state on Thursday morning. That afternoon, Indiana State Police considered all Indiana roads closed.
The snow had begun during the rehearsal in Greenfield that Wednesday night when the minister and musician were unable to make it to the Church of God in Greenfield, where the wedding was scheduled. The rehearsal dinner was at Gene’s parents’ home in New Castle following the rehearsal. She returned to her family home in Kennard following the rehearsal dinner and Gene stayed in New Castle. The blizzard hit in the night.
Her parents are the late Cecil and Vonda (Darling) Keesling and his are the late Lawrence and Hazel (Buck) Miller.
WEDDING IS OFF
On Thursday and Friday, nothing moved. The inevitable calls came on Friday: the preacher, caterer, florist and others were unable to get out for the wedding. The church preferred that the wedding be canceled. So what did the bride do then?
“Cried,” answered Deb, whose planned wedding night was spent in her family home, snowed in.
The night they were to be celebrating their new marriage, the couple was on the phone together for hours.
“When we finished talking we agreed to talk the next day, that being Saturday, and would try to figure something out, but little did I know he was making plans to come and get me to go get married on Saturday,” recalled Deb.
On Saturday, 10 to 15 feet of stacked snow lined each side of Ind. Hwy. 234. But the postman would not be deterred. Gene took off from New Castle for Kennard. He made it to Deb’s home that morning, knocked on the door and said, “Let’s go get married.”
She woke up those in her household and everyone got busy. Gene’s dad called the New Castle Church of God Pastor Elwood Evans. They got a cake and a gallon of punch from Kenny Eaton’s grocery store. Gene tried on his dad’s old suit and let the hems out on the pants. There were no flowers, but Gene’s dad gave his soon-to-be daughter-in-law a Bible to carry during the ceremony. Gene’s brother Bob Miller was rounded up as best man.
Deb’s neighbor played the wedding march and her mom taped it to be played. The rest of the wedding party made it, including maid of honor Kathy (Keesling) Riley.
And they had themselves a wedding in the basement of the family’s Kennard home. At the time, there was between eight and 12 feet of snow outside.
Today, on their 40th wedding anniversary, the couple has no big regrets. In fact, Deb said, “None at all.”
Gene is now retired from the New Castle Post Office. Deb, a nurse, is the public health director at the Henry County Health Department. They went on to have two daughters: Kelly Warrick and Jennifer Braun, who have now given the couple four grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.
It is hard for the couple to believe that it’s been 40 years since they experienced a blizzard – and a wedding – to always remember.
Christmas 1976. My gift from sister-in-law Jeannie? An oversized afghan, crocheted in various hues of blue, a sturdy pattern designed for extra warmth, created by the hands of Jeannie's mother, Evelyn Jackson of Brownsville, Indiana.
It was luscious; so much so that I folded it up and assigned it to my hope chest. I think the girls of my generation were the last to have these large, legged boxes that were for their mothers and grandmothers standard fare among young women. They were meant to contain beautiful linens and dishes that a girl “hoped” to enjoy in marriage.
Just a year and a half later I married Brian and the cedar chest and its contents went into our starter home. We wed in late October so it took no time for the afghan to make its entrance and remain on various sofas in our lives for the next 35 years.
Its wonderful size spread comfortably over all of Brian’s 6’3” frame, and for me, allowed more than enough room for napping in warmth with a toddler at my side, or a cat, or dog or even two of the three at once.
On especially cold nights, it was added on top of the bed blankets to my side of the bed only as it provided one too many layer for Brian’s.
New Year’s Eve 1980: Our friends visited for what would become the first of the next dozen years of new years seen in together. Pam was expecting their first baby, Jenny, and wasn’t feeling well that night. We insisted that she bundle up in that blanket.
Another few years later, it swaddled a sleeping niece for her ride home with parents after a too-late visit to our house.
I joked with Brian, sort of, that if I died, he should bury it with me.
All the while the blanket washed and dried beautifully in our appliances on standard settings.
Then in about 2010, the year Ben and buddies rented a house together in college, it apparently went off to live with him. Or at least that’s what we think. We didn’t see it again at home, and with a sigh, figured it got lost or abused beyond use in the world of college life and a household of young bachelors. I marveled at what a useful life it had led. That was that.
Until last weekend.
I was going through some things upstairs. I decided to clean out the antique cradle that holds pillows and extra blankets. You know what’s coming ...
The long-lost afghan surfaced at the bottom of the cradle! I couldn't believe our good fortune! It was back in our lives. I unearthed it and whisked it off to the washer for a good cleaning, then to the drier. As it had done every time for decades, it came out soft, clean, and perfectly intact.
One would be hard-pressed to give or get a more useful and better made gift than that afghan.
Thank you again, Jeannie, and thanks to her mother Evelyn, all over again. It will be making regular appearances again for the rest of this winter – and beyond.
Do you have a handmade staple in your life like our afghan? Also wondering if any of you ladies had hope chests and if you still have them?
Following is my Dec. 3 New Castle Courier-Times column. I’m still thinking about ornaments today as I prepare a new Christmas program for tomorrow night's Lilac Literary Club in Hancock County. It’s about how our ornaments tell the stories of our lives.
Thirty-one years ago, I couldn’t wait to place baby Sam’s first ornament on our Christmas tree.
As the years passed, new ornaments were purchased annually first for Sam, then also for Ben when he came along. At first I did the choosing, picking out Disney and bear decorations, but as the boys got old enough to care, they got to choose their own.
It became a much-anticipated Christmas tradition to take them to the Hallmark store and select their ornaments. As the “senior” son, Sam got first dibs, and usually selected the year’s cool Batman or sports hero. Along the way came orbs depicting trends such as video games or the hot sports figure of the year.
There were athletes with staying power such as Peyton Manning, and ones who are forgotten footnotes in old box scores. There were action figures such as Spider-man and Lego creations such as a fireplace with Santa appearing to be made from them.
Several years ago, I stopped putting the collection on the big family Christmas tree. These were during the years that the boys were in their late teens and early 20s. The boys had lost their thrill of selecting new ornaments and moved on in their interests. It seemed the time for childhood ornaments had passed.
It’s funny what a few years out of circulation will do to a collection.
Our younger son, Ben, is 26 now, and this is the first Christmas he’s truly been out on his own without a roommate. On Thanksgiving, he was anxious to get back to his apartment and have Brian and I help him put up his own tree.
His lights worked great on the shimmering white tree that came intact from his small patio storage closet. But the problem was, he had no actual ornaments.
So, I offered up his childhood Hallmark ones. I don’t know which of us was more delighted – Ben over the idea of the nostalgic decorations, or me over seeing his delight.
That weekend he came home and went through the pile of Superheroes and athletes, cars and novelty items, all created with the special charm of Hallmark, in ornament form.
One by one we looked them over and he separated his stash from his brother’s and home he went with them. Later that evening, he sent us a photo and video of his decorated tree.
I had always wondered what would become of the boys’ ornaments and if they would ever want them.
I’m happy to see them enjoyed anew in their new home on their new tree – with their old boy.
Don’t let anyone fool you. Brian is every bit as sentimental as I am. If you want proof, try getting rid of (um, I mean paring down and passing on) books of any kind.
Our book collection consumes a variety of venues throughout our home. There’s the glass-front antique secretary where choice volumes reside. There you’ll find author-signed editions, my assembly of Hoosier-themed books, special book gifts, the boys’ baby books, ours and Sam and Allison’s wedding albums.
In this household it’s hard to make the cut for inclusion behind that glass. One reason is that the books there are special and dear. Another reason, probably the main one, is there’s no more space on those shelves.
With the kids gone, our bonus room upstairs doesn’t get much action. There’s no TV there anymore, but the shelves brim as they always have. The three bookcases hold the majority of our collection, along with more than an entire row of photo albums and another row of scrapbooks. There are also school yearbooks dating to the 1960s continuing every year on through 2015, Brian’s last in education. The weight of that shelf alone may well warp the floor boards beneath it. If our house tilts a bit, that shelf is probably why.
In a corner is an antique cabinet that spent decades in Dad’s barn holding tools but then I bought it at the auction, had it refinished, and upgraded it to indoor life.
When we moved here 19 years ago, it went upstairs to hold our third-string books. These consist of college textbooks and reading-list materials as well as a career worth of Brian’s textbooks that were “sampled” to him from publishers wanting to place their books in his classrooms and texts that he used in said classrooms, now outdated, some by a long shot.
Lately I’ve been on a mission to go through every volume and decide if we should keep it or find it another home. I need to catch Brian in just the right mood for the 15-minutes at a time that he can tolerate this evaluation process.
My method goes like this. I grab a stack of his books, some dating a full half century spent on a shelf, and carry them downstairs. I hold each up and he tells me to keep it, get rid of it, or a third option: “That’s Steve’s.”
Yes, a news flash, just registering after 50 years of shuffling high school and college texts around: About 25 of them belong to Brian’s brother. Who knew? He will after reading this. Steve, they are coming your way. Or maybe I’ll send you photos and you can give me the yea, nay, or maybe.
Brian has his own techniques in deciding which of his books to keep or pass on. But darned if I have any idea what they are. Two examples:
Of a college poetry anthology, Brian said, “I hated that book.” He had to do a paper on one poem in particular. All over that poem he has arrows and notes. The thing is nearly covered in blue ink. He got an F on the paper! This from a man from whom anything lower than an A or B was rare.
“Keep it,” he said, shocking me. “That’s one bad memory I want to keep.”
Another college text brought the opposite kind of memory, but proved equally retainable. “We all had to write a one-page paper in that class. He limited us to that. I blew him away. I got an A. Keep it.”
I’m the same, in my own way. There’s an oversized, tattered Mary Poppins movie storybook. Mary Poppins was the first movie I ever went to the movies to see. Mom and I went to a theater in downtown Richmond. I was enchanted.
I carried tomato soup and bacon and mustard sandwiches in a Mary Poppins lunch box all through elementary school. That tin is now in our attic where it holds every high school corsage I ever received. There weren’t that many.
For now, I’m keeping the picture book, the lunch box, and the corsages. Next question.
Today I’m scooping up a stack of mostly textbooks we are parting ways with and handing them off to the library for a future Friends book sale. My thought is the Friends probably don’t want them either, but it seems unkind, somehow, and certainly not green, to just toss them.
I suppose there’s a proper technique for disposing of old textbooks and displaced volumes. Someone may email and say “You should have contacted the (this) or packaged them up and mailed them to the (that).” But instead, I’m palming them off to the Friends for evaluation and disposal. I’m wretched.
As the aging process continues, for the books and for us, there will be more volumes and other things to part ways with. I’m noticing that with aging comes decreasing our belongings and the space we consume in this world, a little at a time.
I often think of the lady who attended one of my “bucket list” programs. When asked what’s on the group members’ bucket lists, she provided the most curious answer I’ve heard from the hundreds who have participated in the exercise. She said, “To leave this world with no more than one bag of possessions.”
What would be in your bag? One thing that won’t be in mine is that poetry book of Brian’s with the bad memory attached to it. But I do see his point. Sometimes a bad memory points to the fact that we work hard, do what we can, and still fail. But survive it we do, then press on.
Sometimes these old, unwanted books still provide lessons.
Talk to me: How do you manage your book collection?