This past week we traveled to my mom’s house for some much-needed sunshine and family time. In between tallying up critters observed (A swallow-tail kite! A snapping turtle! An alligator!), and re-applying sunscreen, I went through several boxes of ephemera from my adolescence. It wasn’t a walk down Memory Lane; it was week-long stay in Memory Village.
I was a bit of an over-achiever as a kid, and had the playbills, awards plaques, and news clippings to prove it. It was sweet to realize that my parents preserved all this evidence of my potential — they had even moved 300 miles with all this history in tow.
At the same time, it was jarring to see all my could-have-beens piled up like a Dagwood sandwich. My (extremely short-lived) stint playing volleyball. My rather lengthy career as a Girl Scout (the “indoor” badges were my forté). My time as a leading lady in parlor dramas. My report cards from college, which revealed that if grades are any indication of talent, I am as creative as a connect-the dot picture.
What am I to do with all of this? I think of my own interest in my family’s history, and wonder if my great-great-grandchildren would enjoy reading the review of my performance in “The Crucible” in 10th grade. Would they look at my band letter and think, “Wow, I’d love to sew this onto my jacket.” or would they say, “What is this furry blue moldy thing?”
There’s a wonderful minimizer/organizer, Marie Kondo, who encourages decluttering by asking you to keep things that “spark joy.” I’ve used this a lot in the past few months, saying goodbye to holey socks and knitting magazines, among other things, that were cluttering up my life. It’s a good, solid method for making decisions about the things we hold onto for no good reason.
But isn’t it sometimes important to keep something that sparks regret? Or sparks loss? Or sparks relief, for that matter? I don’t need to keep all my report cards and transcripts, but my Girl Scout sash is a reminder of my awkward adolescence that I’m not ready to give away. Hand-stitched by my mother, the badges remind me of the first time I ate a kiwi (for the Food Explorer Badge or something like that — see? an “indoor” achievement), and my first night sleeping under the stars.
And then there’s this picture above. That’s me at about 4 years old, dressed like a kangaroo for my ballet recital at a senior center in West Palm Beach. We dance and hop to a song called “Katy the Kangaroo.” I’m wearing a truly dorky costume, and feeling like a ballerina all the same.
It was about a year after my mother had been seriously ill — a time when I was shuttled all over town, being cared for by a network of friends and family members. I was a few months from starting 1st grade, a year of fidgeting and “misbehaving” to come. In 2nd grade I would finally get glasses, gaining both a love of reading and a boatload of insecurity about my appearance. But in this picture, I am in a moment of calm. My mother probably took this photo, evidence that she was in good health. It’s the summer before first grade, and I’m carefree, performing for the fun of it.
It is so valuable to me to remember that little girl and the things she had already survived, and was about to face. My own son is approaching that age, and I am grateful for the reminder of that time, knowing he has the same love of moving, the same lack of self-consciousness, and the same need to be close to me and his dad.
Those boxes in my mother’s garage need to be let go, but I’ll try to hold onto the things that spark not just joy, but the real, deep emotions. The ones that remind us we’re human, and precious, and only here for a short time. And to hold onto each other and love the best we can.