Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Little Boxes

There's a small wooden box in my desk, it's blue and decorated in a Pennsylvania Dutch design. I can't remember where or when I got it, presumably I bought it at a yard sale and judging from some of the contents of the box, it was over 15 years ago.
My son likes to get it out and rummage through it, strewing the box's contents all over the floor and calling all the business cards his credit cards.
Inside the box is an assortment of odd and unrelated items. Christine's business card from Children's Hospital, my dad's business card from the Island Queen, one of my mother's AT&T calling cards, a business card from that garage in Nashua where they fixed our car after it broke down one Memorial Day Weekend on the way to Vermont. There's a prom picture of my sister and Bob, the other 11 wallet-size photos from my senior prom (my son thinks my date is "daddy") tiny road race proof photos that we kept since we didn't order any enlargements, a business card from the restaurant we ate at repeatedly the first time we went to Portugal, and the card from the motel in Montreal where Christine and I stayed one Fourth of July weekend.
All this stuff is technically trash. If I'd wanted to save it, it would already be in an album somewhere, but now that it's kicked around for so long I can't throw it out. By virtue of still existing, this stuff has elevated its status from junk to memorabilia.
It's like the Up Close Museum in the complex across from Graceland. Did Elivis's grandmother Minnie Mae really have the foresight to save Elvis's library card or the stub from one of his paychecks back when he worked for a trucking company? Of course not. That stuff all got packed away during a move and left in a darkened corner of an attic only to be discovered years later during the final move to Graceland.
It all worked out for Elvis because of course he became famous and now people like me will pay good money to stand in a museum and gawk at his driver's license.
Is anyone going to care that I still have a business card from Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room in Savannah or a photo of me and some college friends taken in one of the photo booths in a bar on Boylston Street? Does anyone want to see the picture of our couch cut from a flyer for a furniture store that's no longer in business? Good thing I didn't sign up for the extra ScotchGuard protection plan.
The oldest thing in the box is a photo of my cousin Warren taken in 1973 when he was six years old. One of the most recent items is a business card belonging to the real estate agent we almost bought a house in Vermont from last year before we chickened out at the last minute.
I have another box upstairs in the loft room, a metal box for index cards that also contains accumulated odds and ends. Things that were too big to put in the wooden box. Things like a phone message written on a Post It note my junior-year college roommate, a CD cover autographed by the artist who I dated briefly, and one of my all-time favorite photographs of my mother, my father, and my aunt, all asleep in my parents living room.
At what point does a box of useless stuff switch from being junk to being mementos? Is it after five years? Ten years? Fifteen years? Does it depend on the stuff and the memories conjured up by said stuff? As I mentioned before all these things are basically duplicates of photos I already have safely squirreled away in other places, or cards, notes, and addresses I never planned to keep in the first place.
Now that this stuff's been inadvertently saved for long, how can I part with it when each item reminds me of some snip it, no matter how mundane, of the past? I can't, of course.
I was setting some things aside the other day to donate to the church rummage sale. I reached in the pocket of a coat I haven't worn in ages and pulled out a ticket stub from 1994. The movie was Four Weddings and a Funeral. I put the jacket in the bag for the sale. I put the ticket stub into the wooden box.

song: Little Boxes • artist: Pete Seeger

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