My husband, Mike, is getting a little fishing boat. Translation: We need to clean out the garage.
Cleaning one's garage is like going back in time. Not the near-recent time of the bedroom closet shelves or on top of the armoire, both of which often cause me to wonder just what might be up there. The garage is ancient past, your children's handprint in clay. Other stuff, too usable, or simply too precious for one reason or another to discard, must be kept. So you put it in a box. Out of the way. Eventually, the box gets moved to the garage. It's inevitable.
Mike is hard at work as I step into the garage. He has several piles going and a good start at filling the garbage can. I wonder about what he has already thrown away. He directs me to a stack of boxes. "Start with those," he says in that clipped tone that accepts nothing but "Yes, sir" and the occasional salute.
I am a small-task person. The garage is a large-task undertaking. Perhaps it will kill me.
The top box in my stack is the cat carrier and I take it into the house, reducing my pile immediately. The next is more difficult, fire-ready cardboard if I ever saw it, filled with clothes from I'm not sure which kid, sport hats, several shirts of indefinite gender, a fluorescent lime green bikini so small no one I have ever known could have worn it. The clothes go to a pile to be laundered for the church flea market. The hats go too, as well as an oddly colored soccer ball and a civics textbook I hope was school surplus.
The next box contains miscellaneous glassware I'm surprised I don't remember. Each is carefully wrapped in newspaper that crackles as I pull it off. Another fire avoided. I use the crackly box to recycle the crackly paper, keep the Miami Dolphins glass and repack the rest in fresh newspaper and a new box for the flea market.
The third box intrigues me. Often, when I'm going through boxes of my kids' discards, I find little things I want to keep for myself. Some of their early books (The Poky Little Puppy and Clifford the Big Red Dog) are still with me. Sometimes things they've made, as well as favorite toys left behind, find their way into my box of keepsakes. Today I find a miniature traveling checker set. Folded up and snapped shut like a long wallet, the metal board opens, displaying tiny little magnetized checkers, all clumped together in the middle. I wonder if they're all there and would stop to count, but the eyes in back of my head detect a scowl. I fold it up and snap it shut for later. I also find a delightful array of children's books, unfortunately showing much age so perhaps not flea market material. But then I remember a time in my own childhood when books in worse condition would have been wonderful. I may have to rethink their destiny.
I pick up a vaguely familiar blue disc. It is clay flattened into a margarine lid with small seashells pressed into it. I pick it up and hold it to the light. No name. It saddens me that I cannot assign this to a memory or a child. I put it aside for later.
The last items are a surprise. Several books, crafts, a red Japanese pin cushion. The book on the bottom, indeed Agatha Christie's autobiography, finally identifies the owner. Good grief, this box is mine! Children's treasures I'd collected long ago, added to my own prized possessions. I took them all inside.
Mike announces he is done for the day. He had cleared almost enough space for the boat, filled the trash can so full the lid was at a 45-degree angle, put two boxes of discards in the car for the Dumpster. I looked at the pitiful two boxes I'd emptied, thought of how half of it was now in the house. I wondered if he'd thrown anything away that I'd want to keep, but you don't ask those things.
Later, when I inspect some of the stuff from my box, I find that Agatha has suffered. I had thought the book would be protected, secure in its transparent, soft plastic cover, but no. Bugs had left their nasty little marks on the book's edges. Something had crawled under the cover and died there, forever a spot.
The blue clay circle is damaged, also, cracks across the top, one shell falling out, missing another. I wonder if the children were given the shells or did they choose them? I imagine this child studying, arranging, pressing each shell into the clay. Who would have thought the gift would end up in a box in the garage, broken, 30 years later?
The children are grown and every one of them a capable, creative adult. I need to let go of the broken parts of their childhoods. I drop it into the trash box near my computer. It doesn't get emptied often, so I'll have a few days to "redecide."
Mary Margaret Horan lives in St. Petersburg.