Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dioramas from my parents' basement

My parents have lived in their current house for twelve years. This is the longest either of them have lived in a house since they got married. We moved a lot when my dad was in the Army; there is no childhood bedroom awaiting my visits. Twelve years is a long time to live in one place and 43 years is a long time to be married. A person can amass a lot of stuff in that span of time. Two people can amass even more. And four people? It's scary to consider and then to witness the sheer amount of stuff that four people have. From the graveyard of televisions and old computer equipment to the wall of Christmas, our basement is the kind of place where time ceases to exist and you become overwhelmed by memories of the same wood salad bowl at dinner every night and a time when owning a set of encyclopedias was a big deal. If you wanted to remember what entertainment looked like in the 1980s or 1990s (or even the late 1970s), we've got you covered. I have ventured into my parents' basement and it is a box filled place of mystery and memory.

The basement has been a topic of discussion for years. We talk about cleaning out the basement like some families plan vacations. I'm sure that if it was a logical and safe option, one of my parents would take a torch to the basement and be done with it (I'll let you guess which one). Of course, this is neither logical nor safe so we're back to figuring out how to tackle the basement. Earlier this week my mom emailed me about my weekend plans and suggested that we spend some time working on the basement. I got unnecessarily excited about this and was all ready to start organizing and discarding years worth of I don't even know what. I was grossly under-prepared for the task at hand. This type of organization demands a plan and all I came with was a plucky can-do attitude. My attitude was no match for the sheer force of the basement.

I got distracted by all of things.

Do you remember the Care Bear Cousins? The Care Bear Cousins were introduced as the other animals (and a penguin) that were friends to the Care Bears. They appeared in the original Care Bear movie and the 1980s cartoon series (and I believe they've been brought back in more recent cartoons). I forgot all about the Care Bear Cousins until I stumbled upon Cozy Heart Penguin just hanging out over by some bed linens and old pillows. Not to be outdone, my yellow and white blanket (crocheted by my grandma) was just lying there waiting for me to wrap myself in it like I used to when I was younger. I may have wrapped it around my shoulders like a cape (no photo, no proof). Did I mention the hat my dad brought me from Puerto Rico? All of this occurred in the first five minutes of exploration. If I continued at this rate of discovery, I would probably have to spend every day in the basement from now until the end of the summer just to make a small dent.

And I hadn't even made it to a galaxy far, far away.

To say that my brother likes Star Wars would be understatement. He has toys, comic books, books, games, clothing, and multiple copies of the movies. He's also a really big John Williams fan. He was young enough when the original films came out that he has many toys from when they were first released. He also has a box full of the re-released figures from the mid-1990s (none of these are open). You can tell my brother really loved his Star Wars toys; they're worn down by love and adventures. One box included the Millennium Falcon, an Ewok village playset, the Cantina (this is the saddest looking of all the toys), and a land speeder. This was just what I could see without moving too much. It was like being back in our paneled basement in Wisconsin. I had Barbie and She-Ra; he had Star Wars and He-Man. We played in equal yet divided universes. One day we'd discover Legos and occasionally join forces. Such is childhood.

My experience proved two things to me:
  1. This basement project needs a project manager.
  2. I am way more sentimental and sappy than I thought I was.
I can address the first point. After discovering my Woodstock tackle box wedged between two ancient lawn chairs, I announced to my parents that we would need a plan to tame the basement. Everyone will have a role to play and responsibilities in this project plan. Now that I know that a can-do attitude will be broken by memories in the first five minutes, I can figure out how to best attack each section of the basement. We'll have to rent a truck to haul the electronics and other larger items to the dump. We'll have to make hard choices about furniture that we've had since forever. That wooden salad bowl has got to go. My brother will have to make some decisions about the Rebel Alliance and the Empire (and the box of comics I didn't even bother to open). There will be spreadsheets and calendar events and a need to invest in better allergy medication. If my family thinks I'm bossy now, they will know the full range of my bossiness by the end of this project. But they will have a clean and organized basement to enjoy. The two balance each other out if you ask me.

I don't think that I can really prepare for the second point. No matter how organized or prepared I am, memories are memories and they come with emotions and stuff and things (that is a technical term). No amount of spreadsheets and calendars and task assignments can erase sentimentality. I will balance my organizing with cleaning my Woodstock tackle box (it's going to make a storage container - probably for some of my sewing stuff) and wrapping myself in my yellow and white blanket. That should help in the short term.

Somewhere in the basement is a box of Cabbage Patch Kids wearing my baby clothes. I will be ready for them.


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