Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wrapping Up a Lifetime and Putting It in Boxes

Anyone who owns dogs and cats ought to pull up stakes every couple of years, if only to address all of that fur and dander on the carpets under the beds, under the couches, bureaus, entertainment systems, book cases, etc.  From a health perspective, pet owners should vacate their homes--or at least take everything out now and then and then put everything back in.

And anyone who has a child ought to move periodically.  Otherwise, by the time your "child" has gone off to college, you will still be in possession of filthy, ripped-open things with names like "Sharkey" and "Elmo."   You'll have bins and boxes of scribbles and dried play-dough creatures.  You'll have shoe boxes full of weapons of mass destruction hobbled together from duct tape and cardboard toilet paper cylinders.

It is better to throw out these things and keep the memories.

The move itself may be the crucible in which memories are forged.

The idea was simple enough: Pack two boxes a day.

So you go over to the book case, which is floor to ceiling, and gingerly remove the first delicate object:

A glass apple from Tiffany's given to me as a wedding present for a long-dissolved marriage by Arnold Suzumoto, assistant ichthyologist at the Bishop Museum of Natural and Cultural History, where I worked for two years while I lived on Oahu in my early twenties.

I can still smell the formaldehyde as I remember Arnold lifting up the heavy lid of the permanent sarcophagus of the only extant big-mouth shark.  It was cut in two at the place where the fantastic fish had been hung from a rope by its tail for the papers.

I wrapped the apple up carefully and put it in the first box.

A glass elephant, small and fragile with a fine up-curled trunk: I had coveted it as a girl looking up at it on the shelf at my grandfather's house in Mamaroneck.

Ditto, the porcelain Loch Ness Monster, it's tiny Scottish cap held on by a remnant of cork.  Probably, my grandmother had loved it for some reason, or just because it was awfully cute.  Or maybe it reminded her of someplace she had been.  It had had Scottish whiskey in it once, fifty years ago or so.

I think my grandfather kept it because she was fond of it, and he couldn't keep her.

I wrap these carefully and put them in the first box.  The box is not filling up very quickly.

There is a very small, irritatingly trite, rather tacky dog on the shelf.  No, I did not make it.  It was a stocking-stuffer from my father.  I found it sentimental then, and I find it sentimental now.  I wondered, when I unwrapped it the first time that Christmas, if my father realized that I was  in my thirties.   He seemed to know me best as a child, and how often did I bristle at that...   He loved dogs like I love dogs--pathologically.   This one's a stupid-looking dog, though.  I don't really care for it.

I wrap it up very carefully and put it in the box.

The framed photograph of my mother under the red umbrella in Paris, outside of Notre Dame.  The look on her face is between wonder and rapture.  Mostly rapture.  It was gray and rainy-almost.  Almost raining, but not enough to be a bother.  I had her all to myself for three days--and Paris. We walked all day and ate when we were famished.  We tried escargot, and it wasn't bad.  We preferred the Moroccan restaurant, and the Moroccan wine.  We accidentally slept until noon one day because of jet lag, arrived at the Rodin Museum two minutes before it closed.  We shouldn't have made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Mom slipped under the velvet rope and past the guards, and what choice did I have but to follow?

The photo of Josh, not yet two, looking directly at my camera from his jog-stroller:  He was wearing an impish expression that he would take with him into the future and always have on hand--unlike the jog stroller he was in, and the clothes he was wearing, and the dogs we had then and the house that we lived in.  All of these things would recede into the past, but that expression on his face would endure.

Such a simple task:  Pack two boxes a day.

The task overwhelms me.  I have to keep stopping and coming back to it.

How can anyone move more than every seven or eight years, even if they should because of the dogs and the cats and the dander and the fur?

It's too monumental an effort.

And yet, in that uniquely draining effort of sifting through one's entire life, all that one has, and all that one has loved and all that one has lost and continued to love; one does rediscover the meaning of one's life in the process of upending it once again.

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