I looked at my watch…3:30 p.m. I’d been at it for a little more than 3 hours. In that time, I had reorganized the things into categories based on “what to keep,” “what to discard,” “what to sell,” and “what to give away.” Next week, we would all be together…my mom and her four grown kids. We would work together to finish “The Cleaning.” It would be happy and bittersweet all at once; smiles and laughter, tears and hugs…lots of hugs. I stood up carefully, so as not to hit my head on the exposed beams above and brushed myself off. The motes of dust glistened in the light; and as my gaze followed them upward, I reflected on the past few hours in the garage rafters and what I had accomplished. There was so much more here than these things; so much more.
I steadied myself against the trusses as my dangling legs searched for the support of the ladder. Once on the ground, I folded the ladder and placed it back on the hooks my father had installed so many years before. Everything in its place. As I opened the back door, I pressed the button to close the garage and, from the back step, watched as the sun faded leaving only the light of one bulb. I turned to go inside, hitting another switch as the door swung closed, and the last light flickered out.
My mom greeted me in the den…the memories of events in this room still vivid in my mind’s eye. “Well, is there anything worth keeping?” she asked. I responded with a hug. ”No material things, but what are your plans for the rest of the afternoon?” I asked. “It will take me some time to tell you about what we should keep.” We sat together in the living room, where I proceeded to tell her about what I saw; I told her stories about…
- A baseball glove
- A “cowbell”
- A kid’s canteen
- A pancake griddle
- A wall patch kit
- A high school parking pass
- A newsboy’s carrier bag
- A camping guide
- A Herb Alpert record
- Nanny’s letters
- An accordion
- A baseball card
- A pogo stick
- A baby’s photo album
- A temporary driving permit
- A school detention letter
- A mechanics’ guide
- Hunting equipment
- A busted bike tire
- An old plastic mixing bowl
- A letter from NASA
- A cat carrier
- A box of board games
- A chair
While most stories come to an end, this isn’t one of those stories. Because this has been a story about life…my life; and only a portion of my life at that. I still have plans to continue my travels down the road of life, turning left or right, meeting new characters and enjoying new experiences. I don’t know what the future has laid out ahead for me and I don’t rightly need to know. I do know there are stories in front of me and a pen and blank piece of paper on my desk to record whatever plays out.
As we take one last glimpse over our shoulders, I acknowledge that I have much to be grateful for, including the friends and neighbors I have met and the experiences we have shared. We have covered many miles since the ‘60s and ‘70s. We survived turbulent times, which have, no doubt, prepared us for the times we are in today. Most of us have moved out of the neighborhood, but not so far away that we couldn’t, some years later, come together to reminisce as neighbors once again. Thanks for the inspiration.
To my family, I have always appreciated your love and support. Thanks for putting up with me for the last 6 months as I aired our fallacies and quirks for all to see. There were stories in both the good times and bad…and humor in everything…who knew. Though some of our beloved family members have moved on ahead, these stories have shown to me that no one is so far beyond our physical world as not to be able to provide continued guidance each and every living day.
OK…enough of that. Since this is the last chapter, there are some things that are too important to go unsaid, so I’ll use the remaining space on the page to fill in some gaps; things you should know, which may not have come out in any of the preceding stories.
- Riding a bike – Forward motion, turning, and stopping should be taught on the same day!
- Throwing a football – I learned how to throw a football from our neighbor. It’s all about gripping the ball and releasing it correctly. Window glass can be replaced at most hardware stores.
- Horseshoes – I learned enough from my dad to always come in second place!
- Be nice to your brother – “If you tell mom I beat you up, I’ll beat you up!” I would have accepted “please!”
- As teenagers, younger brothers think their older brothers are cool. As adults, older brothers think their younger brothers are cool. As a general rule, people get smarter as they get older.
- My little sister was always faster than me…she knew it and reminded me after reading one of the stories. You are correct…the bear would have ate me, not you! It’s never too late to be nice to your younger sister.
- Older sisters – they always have your back. They’re there to tell you how nice and pretty your girlfriend is and they’re there to tell you how you deserve better when that same girl breaks up with you. Love you!
- Dads – You will never be able to hold the flashlight steady, but that’s never what it was about.
- Mothers – Mothers will give you the same loving reaction to any gift you bring home to her: a live bird in a box; a dead bird in a box; cheap, discarded things found at a neighborhood garage sale; weedy bushes from a field; flowers from a neighbor’s garden; or a hug. She loves you just the same and that love is timeless.
Important things can also go unsaid. I waited throughout my teenage years to get the talk from my dad…about the “birds and the bees.” That talk never came and I felt cheated enough that, on my wedding night with permission from my bride, I called my dad to provide him one last opportunity. It went something like this…“Dad…you never gave me the talk…I had to go out and buy a book…an instruction manual….I think a page is missing…I think it was important…what do I do?” Most of you know that my dad was a man of few words. On the other end of the line, I’m sure he was quietly contemplating how life’s road had brought him to this moment; but after that brief moment of silence, there was a clearing of the throat, and in his steady, confident tone, he responded… “Here’s your mom!” Life has no directions…no left or right…you live in the moment and get what you get. Cherish every moment.
My stories have centered on certain aspects of my youth and I know there are many stories that will go untold. I also know from the feedback I have received from readers that my stories have been their aide-mémoires, which have triggered memories within your lives. Selfishly, that was my goal all along. I hope these stories provide inspiration for you to take pen to paper to preserve your stories for posterity. Tell your stories to your kids…they want to hear them!
We are now in the present, having arrived at this destination by the grace of God. The road to life is best traveled without a map or list of directions. Turn left, no right…no matter as either direction will bring you to new and wonderful opportunities.
I end this story on the day that we are helping our eldest daughter and son-in-law move into their new house. We took many lefts and rights through life to get here. As we unload the truck and move their belongings into their house, I know that this is just another beginning. The artifacts of life are placed in each room with a purpose for the foreseeable future. Among the things were a desk, a coffee maker, a photograph, dog toys…and so it begins again…
With time, their house will become a home; and in the coming years, our family will have traveled further down the road. Some of the material things we have moved into the house today will have been discarded, but some will have made their way to an attic or perhaps into the garage rafters. Sometimes, memories get attached to material things making it hard for us to part; we place them close enough to provide the periodic aide-mémoire that draws us to an experience, a past destination, or to a lost friend or family member.
Someday both my daughters will have to visit our attic, where they will get a glimpse of things. Two sisters performing “The Cleaning”…together. When they do, I will be there with them…among the things…that say “I’m so glad we were able to meet along this road of life.”