Thursday, June 19, 2008

invincible youth

When we sorted through all the boxes in our basement, we did a quick triage. Books? We edited our book collection last fall so just stack those boxes to go straight to the movers. Baby stuff? Ditto. I thought we'd edited all our stuff down there, but as we got deeper into the piles of boxes, I realized that we had not. This afternoon I went through a box that clearly hadn't been unpacked or even looked at since we moved into this house five years ago.

On the top were old bills and bank account statements that hadn't even been opened, clearly tossed into the box in a last-minute moving panic. Those will be shredded. Deeper down, there was evidence of mouse activity, and envelopes and albums and smaller boxes of photos. So many photos. I will hold onto every single one. As I went through them, I couldn't help but conjure up adult children and grandchildren sorting through them when I'm dead. I'll have to start writing on the backs of them so they know who, when, and what they are.

There's my brother's second gallery, the one that was like a bowling alley, and there are his paintings, photo after photo after photo of his paintings. There's my niece and nephew at the lake, the day we went up to Petroglyphs Park and stopped at a small empty beach to cool down. There's my Grandpa Jack being presented with a birthday cake that holds the number 88, back before they moved into their retirement home, and the painting that now hangs over our guest bed hangs behind him. There's my Grandma Ruth looking absolutely tickled at her first two great-grandchildren, then an infant and toddler, now about to turn 10 and 8. It's the same look I saw almost every time she looked at me, and my chest ached and my eyes pricked that Swee'pea will never see that look, except stilled in this black and white picture.

There's me looking all fresh-faced and thin, wearing my mom's old horn-rimmed, tortoise shell glasses. There's Sugar D and I at my parent's farm and my bony hand, which looks far more graceful than I ever remember it being, holds a cigarette! (Oh yeah, I used to smoke, and not that long ago.) There's us at his graduation, and then his citizenship ceremony. There's the envelope of pictures from the roll of film that started it all; there are the pictures of Sugar D on his balcony at the time that made me think he'd rushed through the last frames just to get to see me again. There's the polaroid of Sugar D with Lala and Po (the Teletubbies) that was taken the day before our first date, the one that made me think he was a pretty cool guy since most guys my age ran from all things children-related. There's Sugar D back in South Africa with his cousins and granny and uncles. There's him again in a picture I've never seen before, and judging from the snow shovel he's holding like in American Gothic with not a single flake of snow to be seen, he must have just arrived in Canada, and his mom must have taken the shot with the intention of sending it back to the summer in South Africa. They arrived in winter and on his first walk to the grocery store his eyelashes froze together. That's never happened to me.

There is the box of runes that I made myself and consulted frequently for romantic advice for a few years. I was about to toss them, but somehow I can't quite. Like they still contain magic, and the magic is one of the threads that hold Sugar D and I together. He also made his own set of runes before we met, and that seemed so significant once upon a time, although I think he lost those long ago.

And of course there's envelope after envelope of boring yet pretentious photographs of brick walls and windows. What was I thinking?!? I guess all those pictures I have on my website will mortify me one day too.

What a treasure of memories this box is, and I feel guilty for all the bends and creases and stuck-together pictures. I guess when I threw stuff in packed that box, I must have intended to sort through it sooner than later. Or maybe not. Back then my grandparents were still alive, although they'd moved out of their apartment, and maybe I thought I was somehow immune to the passage of time, that my memories didn't need photographs to prod them and keep them alive.

When I found those binders last week, I was about to throw a second one out, just like the blue one. But it was my grade 11 English binder and I was sad to throw away my thoughts on Piggy and Ralph and MacBeth, and then I came upon a journal entry on Halloween. Apparently the task was to write about my most memorable Halloween. Now, nearly 15 years after I wrote that, I would say my most memorable Halloween was probably that year or maybe the one before, our last year trick or treating and the first time I tried a cigarette. But the journal entry was about my grade 1 or 2 Halloween, and now I have absolutely no recollection of it. Memory is such a vulnerable and precious thing, and when I packed that box, I had no idea.

9 comments:

thordora said...

What always amazes me is how fickle memory is, how much a changeling it is.

Cloud said...

What a nice post.

I thought I'd sort through more stuff before moving to this house, but with the baby and all, I didn't have enough time, and there are still boxes of things that need sorting. What amazes me is how much precious stuff we accumulate, and how hard it is to prune it.

Janna said...

sounds like you are more of a pack rat than i am - but how nice to have all those memories flooding back when you go through your boxes.

Defiantmuse said...

I loooove going through old stuff like that. Especially photos. I spent about 2 hours the other day looking through old photos on my dad's computer. Such a blast from the past....

Hannah said...

I wanted to comment on your post about the binders because it cracked me up, I had every song referenced on said binder running through my head in a 90s medley all day.

Congrats on selling the house. And good luck with sorting your memories.

Lisa b said...

This is exactly why it is taking me so long to sort out my basement. Each box is a trove of memories.
thanks for sharing yours.

Kyla said...

I loved this. Memory is so fluid, but it seems so permanent in the moment.

Aliki2006 said...

I love to sort through old things, but they make me sad and happy and all twisted up inside in that way nostalgia does.

beautiful post.

Sus said...

What a lovely post, and a perfect wrap up. We just went to my aunt/2nd mother's estate sale this weekend, and it was like going through one huge box of memories, but with random other people grabbing at them, so your heart just pounds and pounds at the possibility of them getting at stuff before you.