mem'ries...like the corners of my room...
trashed from the past - what part of childhood do i keep?
by adam kraemer
Adam Kraemer's short story EAVESDROPPER will be featured in LET THE EVOLUTION BEGIN, the first book from Intrepid Publishing.
So my parents are moving. Don't ask where - it is a source of some pride and more than a little anxiety that the house sold in about 3 hours, to the first people to look at it; my parents have not yet picked out their next domicile. No matter where they wind up, however, it's going to be smaller than the current abode. After all, it's just the two of them now. I will never again have a room to call "mine" at my parents' house.
Which is just as well; since my brother moved out of the house, I generally stay with him and his girlfriend when I visit the Philly area, choosing to leave my old room and old bed in their current pristine "exactly the same as when I left for college" state. But without the nudie magazines hidden under the mattress.
And so I found myself, the afternoon of Rosh Hashana (after the early service), boxing up those things I wanted my parents to keep until I could corral a friend with a car to drive down with me and grab them.
And everything else gets thrown out. Well, everything that doesn't get bought in the yard sale. My childhood will, someday soon, become part of a landfill, eventually being converted to methane so my children's children's children can heat their floating bubbles on the moon.
Or something like that.
It's not easy to decide what stays and what goes. Especially if you're a pack rat, like me. I still have my chemistry notes from high school. Or at least I did. I don't think I logically thought they would come in handy at any point, but that's my ultimate fear: that I will throw something out and need it two days later. I'll be at home, and get a call on my phone from some lottery or another, telling me that I will win $2 million if I can just answer one question: who were the major players in the Teapot Dome Scandal? And I get to call one person to help me. It's a good thing, then, that I saved all my notes from Mr. Fisher's 11th grade history class; I'd be kicking myself forever if I hadn't left that binder in the closet of my old bedroom. "Hello, Dad? Can you run upstairs...?"
I should also mention that growing up, I had two rooms. Our house was an "L" shape, and I remember, during our first tour (I was in 6th grade), "calling" the corner room on the third floor. This effectively gave me the room behind it, as well - less-than-appropriately called my "study." It would better have been referred to as my "other room" or my "bookshelf/desk room" or even "Phil." "Study" was definitely a misnomer, as all of the studying I did do was either on my bed or at the computer in the more-aptly-named "computer room."
(The other minus of the study is that attached to it was a walk-in closet the size of my entire bed, but with literally no heat. Among the least pleasant moments of my life is the - more than once - realization only after getting out of the shower that the closest towel to me was in the "big closet" and, given that the temperature outside was slightly lower than "really friggin' freezing," the temperature of the closet on my wet skin would likely give me hypothermia faster than you can say "c-c-c-c-cold.")
The point being that I had not one, but two rooms worth of memories to relegate to their respective "keep" and "dump" piles. The question then became "by what criteria do I judge what is really worth holding on to?" This process was made slightly more esoteric by the fact that all of the really important stuff had probably come to college (and beyond) with me, so I was basically sorting through the non-essentials. It's like trying to decide between Total and Corn Flakes after you've eaten all the Froot Loops.
Among the things kept:
• A whole bunch of books. A bookshelf full of books, actually. I have matching bookshelves in my study. One of them is now empty. The other is full of things I either never plan on reading again (the illustrated children's version of Gulliver's Travels, for example), or never read in the first place (most of my college texts). But favorite books (Piers Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series, every Bloom County comics collection) and things that will make me look especially smart on my shelves years from now (Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil; Geisel's Fox In Socks) - they're coming with.
• Photo albums. If I have to explain why, you have no soul.
• A jewelry box given me on the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah (the 16th anniversary of which is Oct. 17) by, I believe, the Greenbergs. It's a nice jewelry box, and it also allows me to hold on to a bunch of jewelry I might someday need (two Swatches and a small ivory elephant, for example) in case they pass a law against buying any new jewelry and I lose all of what I currently have in New York.
• The cover of every "Rolling Stone" magazine I've ever recieved (fortnightly since 1989, I believe). Someday I'm going to wallpaper a room with them. No, really.
• My record collection. No, I don't currently have a record player. But I will at some point in my life, even if I have to wait 190 years for my dad to pass and leave me his Technichs turntable (yes, 190 years. And not a day before). This collection consists not only of the albums I bought pre-CD, including Rick Springfield's "Working Class Dog," Billy Joel's "Glass Houses," and Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet," but also of the 45 rpm singles I bought in junior high (about 100 of them, give or take) to avoid having to buy, say, the entire Billy Idol record just to hear his version of "Mony Mony" and all of my parents' combined collection of 45s from when they were in high school. If record jackets had existed back then, those might be worth a lot of money. Apparently my dad was a big "King Creole" fan.
Some things relegated to sale or disposal:
• The rest of the books. I don't need to own a used copy of the riviting story of the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Let Dan Rostenkowski and Bob Packwood enjoy their own notoriety. I've also decided not to save the world's smallest encyclopædia or a 16-year-old dictionary. The Tufts University handbook from 1993 was also, sadly, added to the "discard" pile, as was the John Grisham book about the young attorney who stumbles onto a conspiracy plot and through a combination of plucky determination, smarts, and luck manages to thwart the plans of what at first seems like a much more resourceful enemy.
• The memory glasses from my Bar Mitzvah. I have no idea if 13-year-old Jews are the only people who do this, but the basic idea behind a memory glass is to take various and sundry souveniers from the reception - a flower from the centerpiece, someone's place card, a piece of candy, the part of the cocktail napkins with the Bar Mitzvah boy's name on it, grandpa Frank's bowtie, etc. - stick them into a half-full glass of water from one of the place settings, and melt wax all over the top, thus creating a mini-memorial to the reason your dad had to take out a second mortgage. 'Course when you're 13, it makes total sense that a glass of water "sealed" with wax should preserve whatever you put in it. It doesn't. Until this month, I was the proud owner of two 16-year-old glasses of really dead flowers, illegible place cards, formerly dry-then-wet-then-dry-again napkins, and wax. These were surprisingly easy to say good-bye to.
• A plaster cast I made of my hand at summer camp one year. Maybe I should have saved that; I'm pretty sure that was the pinnacle of my artistic abilities. My mom will corroborate that claim.
• My stuffed animals. Yes, I know. This was probably the only truly difficult decision in the entire procedure. At one point in time, these things were my friends. They had their own personalities; some (like my stuffed Snoopy) even had their own clothes. They all had names, even if some were born out of the fact that no two year old has yet discovered the concept of "clever" - Dunk the Donkey and Blam the Lamb probably got laughed at a lot during the 1978 stuffed animal convention. Sure, there was a time that, like Christopher Robin, I outgrew my own Tiggers, Poohs, and Piglets. But they were still there, at least. The bunny my mom bought me one Valentine's Day when I was 10 to cheer me up - I don't remember why I was unhappy - and on whom we put the "Kraemer" T-shirt could still be seen, albeit a bit floopy, on my windowsill whenever I visited.
Now, I'm Jackie Paper. Puff has sadly slipped into his cave. Except in this case, Puff is Dunk and his cave is wherever the Elkins Park sanitation department disposes of their garbage. I actually changed my mind last night, too. My mom informed me, not unkindly, that trash pickup had been Tuesday.
It's not all that bad, of course. I mean, logically speaking, not only were they inanimate objects, but had their presence truly been important I wouldn't have left them in a room in which I never again planned to live. I didn't even bring them to college. Heck, I haven't occupied that room for anything other than a visit since I was 17. And I haven't talked my stuffed animals in at least half that time. So they'll be somewhat missed, always loved, and never forgotten. I suppose most people can't really ask for much more than that when they, like my stuffed animals, go to meet their maker in that cosmic garbage truck compactor in the sky.
So what have I learned from all this? What words of wisdom can I impart to you, my faithful reader? Where's the payoff? In other words, as with most of my columns, you might find yourself asking "What's the point?" Well, I got a surprise for you this month, boys and girls: there really isn't one. I suppose I could say something trite about never forgetting the objects of your youth, or how important it is to decide what to discard, or the like. But instead, I'm going to let you draw your own conclusions. This column was about me and my stuff. So enjoy reading about my memories; now go and write your own.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.6.03 @ 11:47a
"this column was about me and my stuff."
What a rite of passage.
We moved so much when I was a kid, most of my childhood blew out the back of a '72 Ford pickup cruising along Hwy. 12 years ago.
Matt* is definitely the packrat in our family. He still has a bowling trophy that he won when he was 11.
It's out in the garage.
10.6.03 @ 12:02p
My parents are embarrassingly pack ratish. My mom has an attic full of stuff she bought ten years ago for her future grandkids. And their house is so full of stuff that I get x-mas presents all through January because my mother forgets where she hides them, then mails them to me as she stumbles across them post Dec 25th.
I think because I hated growing up in that mess, I'm super anti-pack rat. Every 6 months (at least) I go through my house and clean shit out. I give clothes to Good Will 2 or 3 times a year. And all the college and high school stuff I keep fits in a 3'x3' box.
10.6.03 @ 1:33p
I think something like this happened to me when my parents decided to tear down the wall between my room and their while I was at college, and again recently when my father revealed to me that he was thinking of selling our house.
There's still some stuff sequestered up in the attic that I'll need to rescue before the house goes into someone else's hands, but I've got some of the most important parts. Castle Greyskull now stands guard over our entertainment center, and I've discovered that a lot of those baseball cards that I've been hoarding for years and years are actually worth something, now.
10.6.03 @ 1:58p
Oh, yeah. My mom knows not to throw out the baseball card collection in the basement. I should probably start selling them.
10.6.03 @ 5:05p
I am a horrible packrat. But, it runs in my family. When I was in junior high I helped my grandmother clean out her attic and we were pulling out english essays and math tests from my uncle's high school career, not to mention the Playboy that was tucked among the chemistry assignments. >That was comedy.
10.6.03 @ 6:55p
I dare anyone to beat my husband's aunt for packrattiness. She's 76, and her youngest child is 54, and she still has her breast pump stored in the basement. I tried to get her to throw it out, or even to donate it to a museum and her reply was, "Put it back. You never know."
No one in the hubby's family has thrown away anything since 1938, I swear. My mother, on the other hand, throws away everything. "Well, the kids are grown up now. Guess I don't need these baby pictures anymore."
10.6.03 @ 7:03p
My mom's biggest problem is that she buys stuff constantly. "Well, I'll have grandkids someday, so I'll buy 25 pairs of these Gap Kids socks because they're on sale now."
Last X-mas she actually went out and bought bowling balls at Big 5 Sporting Goods because they were on sale and "you never know when your father might want to go bowl again."
My parents own 9 - count 'em 9 - camping tents.
I once told my mom that they should have a garage sale so they could get some of the crap off their packed shelves. Her response? "What good are shelves if you don't have stuff to put on them?"
10.6.03 @ 9:42p
No offense, but your mom has all the classic symptoms of someone with a shopping addiction.
My biggest problem? Newspaper and magazine clippings. I have them everywhere. Leads, story ideas, people in the community I need to know, travel tips/locations/special promotions, recipes, quotes, health tips, computer "things" I might need to know, products I might be intersted in, catalog clippings with stuff I might want when I have more fluid income....
The funniest thing is that I have notebooks and file folders to organize these damn things, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
10.7.03 @ 12:09a
Reading the column, and the comments, makes me feel slightly better, or at least less alone.
I live in my grandmother's house, where my parents stayed after they got married. My grandmother had the house built in 1950, and moved her 14 rooms of furniture into the 8 rooms and a partial basement we now have.
With my mom recently being sick, and with finally doing some updating to bring the house into the 20th century (yeah, I know it's the 21st), I'm discovering stuff in boxes that haven't been opened in 50 years.
It's eerie to find things from the 1930s and wondering what they are for? I've discovered ancient toasters that make what I saw on the Flintstones look realistic.
I too am afraid I'll toss something I just might need next week, after the garbage is carted off.
10.7.03 @ 12:25a
The ebay seller in me is writhing in agony now.
10.7.03 @ 12:55a
The "too-lazy-to-bother-selling-things-on-eBay" slob in me is offended by your get-up-and-go.
10.9.03 @ 10:09a
Update: my parents have found a house. You can all stop worrying. That's a relief.
10.9.03 @ 1:32p
Heh. My dad is still trying to sell his.
10.9.03 @ 3:57p
Apparently, I'm missing all the fun of lugging things outside for this weekend's garage sale.
10.11.03 @ 10:58p
In doing some house cleaning this weekend to get ready for Kitchen Magic (tri-state locals will recognize the name or at least their billboard with the industrious gnomes slaving away to "build the perfect kitchen of my dreams", I've discovered 5 sets of silverware, 7 sets of china, and a stuff I have no clue about. I just spent most of the day shaking my head and asking "why?"