DATE: 4/17/2004 06:21:00 PM
you could always hear the rub squeaking
of those two tree limbs
'til one day one of them came down
taken down by the wind
but on the one that's still there
you can still see where the bark was
it's a metaphor if you know what I mean
how have you been? --Ani Difranco
Blow real hard, and you clear off the car repairs, the thrown-out back, the computer virus, the fact that you need to suck it up and start paying rent, the insurance bill, the cell-phone overage charges, etc., the same way a carpenter huffs and puffs the sawdust away from his creation; blow real hard, and you'll find the essence of your day.
Sometimes it gets buried, the little gem at the heart of each rotation of the sun. Sometimes it's so laughably small, finding it like panning for the tiniest flake of gold that it's more cruel joke than gift; sometimes it's easy to drown in the flood of petty grievances.
Other times, it falls like a meteor from the sky and clunks you right on your thick head. Other times, it walks right up and slaps you right in the face.
My grandparents' house has been sold to a young couple (regrettably not me and Steve but another couple our same age) and the house has to be empty after the close of the sale this week. That means it fell to my parents and me to haul a truly astonishing amount of mint-condition antique detritus out of the attic, kitchen, bedrooms, family room and basement of the place two generations of my family lived for almost fifty years.
Fifty years means at least a five-layer geological formation of sentimental sediment has built up in every conceivable storage space. Fifty years means every room, drawer, cabinet, hutch, box, and chest is full of cups, saucers, tennis rackets, canteens, fishing rods, rusted tricycles, electric fans, oil lamps, framed pictures, crumbling Bibles, music boxes, crockery jars, spittoons, rickety wooden sleds that look straight out of Citizen Kane, stuffed rabbits that belonged to children now middle-aged, and clothes that no longer fit anyone.
Which is not to mention china, outdated address books, stovetop coffee makers, pup tents, tarps, bedspreads, curtains, crystal dishes, teakettles, potholders, shot glasses, coffee tables, luggage, motheaten windowshades, camp kitchens, floor lamps, long-stem wine glasses, ceramic pitchers that look like smiling pigs, official US Navy canvas bags, child-size Navy uniforms, Halloween decorations, Christmas decorations, books, ancient turntable / AM radio stereos, plastic troll dolls, spoon collections, typewriters in an evolution from manual to electric, television sets, mirrors, horrible art made by friends, baby cribs, children's books in an animal cracker box, toiletry kits from the 1960's, dolls, dining room chairs, cedar lawn furniture, whicker rocking chairs, golf clubs, and bag upon bag, box upon box of God Knows What.
Fifty years means weeks of lugging, packing, sorting, hauling and storing. It means two storage spaces on one of those lonely lots where you just know there are at least one or two dead bodies waiting for discovery. Maybe even a head in a jar, a la Silence of the Lambs, behind one of those thick locks the size of a mass-market paperback book that can't be broken even with a gunshot.
Fifty years means a hot shower, Advil every four hours, and bed rest for the rest of the weekend.
But that's just the sawdust. That's just the jumble of crap there was to dig through to the root, the jewel, the truth of today, which happened just as my lower back was spasming me into submission at the bottom of the attic stairs, as my father handed down yet another bizarre relic of the Cold War era to be taken to the garage.
I spied the music box I remember well from childhood, the one showing a raven-haired girl and an auburn-headed boy standing next to a tree where a heart is carved in the bark. The piece, your typical gift-shop plaster figurine, epitomizes average. It plays the theme from Love Story, which, to my unending chagrin, I have come to find out only later in life was an incredibly, unforgivably cheesy 70's movie. But as a child I found the tune captivating and dramatic and I was entranced by the eerie resemblance the two doe-eyed plaster lovers bore to my parents.
There was a period where, every time I visited my grandparents' house (which was often--given a choice between even the beach, or the Budweiser factory to see the Clydesdales, or the library, and my grandparents' house, I'd usually choose my grandparents' house), I'd kneel on the floor next to the end table the music box was kept on, pick up the music box, flip it over with a little "ching" of protest from the mysterious music-making mechanisms inside, wind the crank and listen to the morbid, minor-key tune tinkle out, slower and slower, melodramatic.
Today, in the midst of ancient baseball mitts and rubber galoshes and crumbling artificial Christmas trees, almost ten years after my grandmother died and more than five since my grandfather suffered his stroke, I spotted my mother picking up the music box.
"Hey!" I puffed from under the most recent dusty box passed down from the attic, fighting back a sneeze. "I want that!"
My mother looked at it. She turned it over. She smiled.
She walked over and tilted the music box so I could see its balsa-wood bottom. There, etched in my grandmother's handwriting, was my name.