Taking stock of life while cleaning out my basement

Deborah Mitchell - Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell

Contributing Columnist


The basement is clean. I’m not sure I would eat off the floor, but it is clean. All file boxes are full and stored, all holiday décor is tucked neatly away, all books have been separated into stacks of “donate” or “keep.” Technology has changed things so that much of the paper that was in the file boxes is now available on line, and so are many of the books now in the “donate” stack. Thirty years ago, who could have imagined a Kindle?

Technology, however, cannot affect the things in our memory boxes. That’s why it took so long to get through the whole basement. I insisted that we go through every box on the shelves, and we kept finding things that had to be looked at, touched – remembered. My collection was much more extensive than Max’s. Imagine that!

I found not one, but two plastic tubs and two banker’s boxes full of things I kept from my early years. I recognized the bathing suit I wore when I was playing in the plastic blow-up pool in the back yard. A series of photographs memorializes the day I, wearing that suit, was instructed not to drink from the hose but did so anyway. They’re cute pictures, even if I do say so myself! I found the aqua polka-dot bonnet I wore in an Olan Mills photo that was taken when I was about three. The little white piano my grandmother gave me when I was two or three was in one of the boxes, as was the Fisher-Price wooden train that I used to drag around. And the books! I wonder at the number of books I read when I was little. Some of the books had been chewed on by that devil dog Hildegarde – remember her? She’s the one who ate my Barbie dolls and the interior of our car.

I made a decision, though, that most of the things in those tubs and boxes could go. I kept one piece of the train, a few pieces of clothing that I had worn in photos, including that bathing suit, and several of the books I actually remember reading over and over – “Bunny Blue,” “The Goose That Played the Piano,” and a few more. I also had to keep a couple of baby blankets that my mother sent to me when Emily was born. I remember opening the box and seeing the blankets, not knowing what they were until I touched the satin binding. It’s difficult to actually explain, but when I felt the binding, I remembered using those blankets when I was a child.

As I moved through the boxes, it was as if I were moving back through my life, and I marveled that so many years had passed. I found everything I wrote in high school and college, because I had kept it all. I re-read most of the essays and poems, and the sonnet that my writing teacher said was “excellent!” The essays showed a clear delineation of my thought processes through the years. I was quite an idealist during high school and most of college, but my writing changed during law school – and so did I.

I found letters written by my friend Terry Teachout after he had graduated from college and was trying to find his way in the world. Obviously, he found it, but I was surprised at how much time it took. I had forgotten how entertaining his letters were; at the end of each, he drew a little caricature of a man wearing a monocle and tails. Terry also set several short poems to music and dedicated each to a different person, and I found mine. I put everything he wrote into the box of things I am keeping.

After I had finished going through everything, I put my entire life – all of it – into one Rubbermaid box. I guess that’s what we need to remember: things are just things. The people

who move through our lives and the experiences we have are the most important part of living. They need no Rubbermaid box. We can keep them in our hearts and minds forever.

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