Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tiny Compartments

Last November, my mother asked her six children to clear out her storage unit. It was Thanksgiving 2012 and the first time in three years all six of us and our families were together in one spot. It was a beautiful blue day on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the view was picture perfect with backyard football games and tabletops and countertops crowded with bowls, bags, plates and platters. Iridescent ribbons of children’s laughter rippled throughout the little red rancher my grandfather built 40 years ago on a small hidden lot tucked up tight against the Chesapeake Bay.

We knew this would be the last time we celebrated this holiday with our family intact. My mother had just been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and we were leaning on each other to make sure this day was wonderful enough to befit such a cruel distinction.

None of us had enthusiasm for the task of sorting through the stacks of crushed cardboard boxes and teetering towers of barely contained chaos. But as we unwrapped each memory and unearthed the long forgotten treasures from our youth, we found ourselves releasing staccato bursts of excitement. Each school photograph, handmade Christmas ornament, dented basketball trophy and beloved broken Fisher Price toy helped fill the jagged hole recently ripped into our lives. 
It wasn’t long before I became overwhelmed and overloaded. The stagnant air in the tiny compartment grew thick, and the already fraying strings heroically holding up my shoulders finally broke, releasing them to fall with a shudder. I clutched a few brittle and yellowed mementos I knew would fit in my carry-on luggage and gingerly stepped over the rusted threshold of corrugated metal onto the hard, dry dirt of abandoned farmland.

It hurt to see all those bits and pieces of our childhood, our family history, unceremoniously condensed to fit inside a cold cement closet locked behind a colorless garage door. But at least it was all in one place. It didn’t escape me that as the six of us were reminiscing about Christmas mornings, birthdays, and summer vacations, we were actively dismantling our shared past once and for all.

I shoved the acidic thought down into my roiling stomach and angled my foot to nudge the protruding corner of a broken box the color of mud. It didn’t budge and I resisted the urge to kick it. My mother packed this box with her careful hands and practiced patience. I would unpack it the same way. 

Read the continuation in The Purses.