More than a year ago we moved from the place in which we had lived for eighteen years. I started packing boxes a good ten months before the move, labeling everything, stacking cartons in the living room, thereby signaling that the time we had remaining in the home a son and daughter had grown up in was slipping by quickly.
Time Flies. My favorite Classicists probably encountered the phrase in Virgil’s Georgics; I found my Latin in a comic book, as Archie tried to urge Jughead to hurry if he wanted a hamburger.
Yes, I said it. I moved two boxes, one marked, “Archie” and the other, “Archie Double Digest”
Over the years I have collected matchbooks, bottle caps coasters, stamps, baseball cards, football cards, hockey cards, coins, marbles, issues of TV guide, yearbooks from schools I did not attend, signed baseballs, college pennants, theater programs, sheet music, toy soldiers, newspapers, comic books, the complete series of Science Fiction novels written by L. Ron Hubbard, old baseball mitts, and one Barbie doll — the Barbie Michigan Cheerleader.
All of that stuff belongs in the realm of ephemera, things that are not meant to endure, that are transitory, short-lived. The word derives from the Greek, ephemeros, “lasting only one day”, which is not to say without value; in fact in odd cases, ephemera endures because it was not meant to endure. The very fragility of the moment in which the thing came to be carries sentiment, of course, and memory, but also, dare I say, an ephemeral connection between us and the object.
OK, no need to wax philosophical about it; I just like stuff.
But here’s the rub: I’m a mid-century modernist by training, inclination, and aesthetic. I am pleased by uncluttered space. I enjoy leaving my keys on a table unburdened with flotsam; I am pained in encountering jumble.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has surely been a boon to those of us who are not exactly hoarders but inclined to hoard things. As I look at that sentence, I am aware that there may be some denial still at work.
The method by which one begins to tidy, the KonMari Method, involves snappy tricks having to do with folding and organizing, which is great, but not my problem. I can fold with the best of them, travel for a week with a small carry-on bag, keep the socks organized by color, shape, and age. No, my problem was with the cartons still stacked in the garage, preventing its use as, well, a garage.
There was hope, however, as Kondo popularized a mantra that seems peculiarly effective for sentimentalists such as I am. “When I touch this object (Archie Double Digest, for example) do I feel a spark of joy?” It’s odd that the word “joy” works for me in a way that “worth” or “value” do not.
So, you ask, what got chucked? The Archie Double Digests?
Sorry, I think we’re losing signal.
Actually, I chucked quite a lot, although the garage is still strewn with a remnant of joy sparking ephemera. What remains, for the most part, are remarkable collections, none of them belonging to me. My son and daughter have been up and out for a while, bounding into the lives they were meant to lead, and I am delighted that they have done so well, but … I can’t bring myself to pitch their childhoods.
Some of that reluctance comes from having had my childhood pitched, particularly the comic books and baseball cards that could now be providing me a retirement income. More persuasive, however, are the sparks that still seem to fly when I open the tub containing my son’s collection of Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures, the Pokemon card binders. My daughter’s side of the garage has the Breyer horses, all things Disney, and, in tribute to the changing tides of youth, the Buffy and romcom dvds.
I confess that it’s not just joy that sparks when I consider my kids in their various stages of personhood; it’s a more complicated array of feelings. There’s loss, and regret, and some guilt; I do wish I had been a better father to each in turn, although all three have turned out to be smart and authentic adults, capable and interesting.
What strikes me now as it did at each transitory stage is that no matter how the circumstances of our lives stood, no matter what developmental hurdles were in the process of being cleared, no matter what scrape or folly came into play, my sons and daughter were always fully themselves from the start. I don’t mean personality, per se, because the more accurate supposition would be something like personhood. The same circumstance elicited completely differing responses from each one, making raising children less predictable, but finally far more rewarding.
Some of this comes to mind as I meet my granddaughter, a relatively new person who has been fully herself from the start and understand the frustration my son and daughter-in-law feel when well-meaning friends and relations question their parenting decisions, assuming similar parenting experience. It also comes to mind as a speaker visiting our local university touts the notion that the true meaning of “genius” is the inherent unique essence of each person; genius, in his view, is not remarkable intelligence but our calling, the gift we have to give the world.
What’s the relationship between genius and the hermetically sealed bags of stuffed animals now sitting on shelves in the garage? It’s probably a stretch, but I think the personalities of the most beloved animals were very much connected with the core of each child’s genius. The walrus spoke to one, a bear to another, and a bulldog to the third. By spoke I mean called to, but I also mean carried out fairly extensive conversation at bedtime. When I’m able to give myself any credit as a dad, it comes with remembering that the animals called to me as well, speaking through me to the children they protected.
Tidy is sometimes overrated.