“We don’t even know what’s up there. It’s like a mystery minefield of crap.”
“If we do it together, it can’t be too bad. Plus, it’s a weekend. We can pretend like it’s fun.”
It was time to reclaim our upstairs workrooms, which had become oversized, overflowing junk drawers. With a rainy weekend and no other plans, we felt brave enough for the Grand Excavation of 2017.
That’s what it felt like. An archeological dig of our lives, discovering the artifacts of a family who doesn’t live here anymore. The one with two little girls, and parents who were always busy, trying their mightiest to make the best lives happen. The reasonably productive, pretty creative, and undeniably messy family.
Closets, corners, under desks, behind book cases, on top of shelves. So. much. stuff.
Photos, boxes and boxes of them. And just as we were feeling overwhelmed—the discovery of yet another box. Friends I can’t remember, friends I will never forget. Family, gosh we were young once, weren’t we? Gosh, our parents were young, too (and for that matter, so were our grandparents).
“At least now we know where the boxes live…that’s good, right?”
“Well, it’s progress, but it’s not done, not by a long shot.”
No hope of getting them organized this weekend, but understanding the mass of our mess was a beginning.
Newspapers and magazines. Our first days at the Chico News and Review, every issue, saved by our mothers. By both of our mothers. Grocery bags full of “on the day you were born” publications for both Kate and Alex. The New York Times issue with the complete Watergate manuscripts. Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories. Rolling Stone, Ms., Sports Illustrated (because the S.F. Giants won the World Series, you know), Time, Mother Jones. Some just needed to be saved. Clearly we have a thing for paper and print.
Handmade cards, drawings, paintings, sketchbooks, diaries, notes, lists. Files of stories, poems and ideas that never went anywhere, but weren’t ready to be tossed out. Postcards from Europe, letters from London, tickets from Italy, Switzerland, London, Paris. Notes from India.
Ski maps, lift tickets, mountain resort brochures.
It was surprisingly exhausting. Not just the excavating, but dealing with all of these feels.
“Come here, you have to see this.”
“I am not going to look. Don’t you dare make me look. I am still dealing with this box and I don’t have enough feelings for another.”
“Ok, but I will leave this for you, because you have to touch it.”
“I told you, don’t make me. I am going to move that pile, without even looking at it. And don’t you dare describe it to me.”
Bins of craft supplies, reminding me of an era that’s left the building. The one that included almost weekly birthday parties and hand painted sweatshirts that declared “two is cool” and “eight is great.” Bottle caps, buttons, stickers, ribbons, string, beads, safety scissors, water colors, dried up markers.
“Good Lord, we did a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s no wonder we have a mess. We were busy making a life.”
“What is Kate’s pink Jemima Puddle Duck sweater doing in with the box of maps?”
“I’ve been meaning to move it to the archival clothing box for the past ten years, but never did. Just leave it for now.”
Photos from bike rides, the long, multi-day ones Steve did with Kate for the Lung Association. Alex’s softball trophies, awards and pictures. Weightlifting certificates. Horse show ribbons. Doll furniture. Legos. Train sets. Puzzles. Trains as puzzles as names—the multi tasker showoff of keepsakes.
“Oh my gosh, you should see this self portrait Alex did when she was six. It’s kind of weird and brilliant.”
“Here’s the proposal Kate wrote to get her first horse when she was 11. Look here’s the spreadsheet.”
“You’re trying to trick me again, aren’t you?”
The slide projector, slides, film cameras, lenses, so many of them. Video cameras and cassettes. Just looking at the equipment brought back memories. Sheesh.
A box of marbles, must have been Steve’s.
A sewing machine I don’t remember how to thread.
More books. How can we have so many books?
Letters we wrote to each other.
Treasures we made for each other.
And some stuff that can only be classified as crap.
We spent the weekend excavating, filling up our trash cans and donation piles. Slowly, we made progress, remembering what we did and didn’t do in our lives, clearing space for the next phase. Making room for the work we want to create, now that the child raising work is done. I made space for a second desk in my room (one for writing, one for crafting) and Steve made room to work at both of his (yes, they are small rooms, and yes, we both have two desks, and yes, I see where this is leading).
And we’ve convinced ourselves that keeping so much, for a little while longer, is justified.
Because at least we know what we have. And for now, that’s progress enough.