Digging Deep into Family Archaeology

It’s an old cliché to say that when your daughter gets married, you’re not losing her—you’re gaining a son. And for us, that’s pretty true.

When Emily gets officially hitched this spring, she and her new hubby will be going on a nice honeymoon—then heading right back home. Our home. They’ll be living in our basement for a bit while they save up money for a house of their own and, given home prices, it could be a while.

So we need to clear some space so that the happy couple can settle down in relative comfort. That means getting rid of some stuff. And in our family, that’s no easy task. If you’ve learned anything about me through these blogs, you know that the Asay family likes its stuff.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been spelunking through our home’s crawlspace and pulling out boxes and boxes worth of stuff—stuff we no longer use but stuff we can’t seem to get rid of.

In the course of our family archaeological dig, we’ve found this bat outfit you see in this old picture.

bat

And this track.

track

And most of these toys.

toys

Have we gotten rid of these things? Of course not. No one can fit into the bat outfit anymore, but maybe the dog would like it. The track just looks like too much fun to give away. I may play with it as soon as I’m finished writing. And as for the stuff covering the bedroom floor in the picture  … well, we’ll have to save them for future grandkids. Never mind that, when grandchildren do waddle into the picture, we’ll probably wind up buying them a whole bunch of new stuff. Because who wants to dig under the house for boxes of dusty old toys?

We’ve also found loads of our kids’ old artwork. And Emily’s been pretty ruthless in culling the stack down to a manageable size. After all, she reasons, how many pictures covered in glitter and macaroni does one family need?

But we have to keep an eye on her, too. You never know what she might chuck.

I just went through her “discard” pile of art—stuff she didn’t want to save. And buried underneath egg cartons festooned in pipe cleaners and crayon pictures of dogs, I uncovered a slab of plaster, painted primary blue. And in that plaster was a handprint.

image1

Fifteen years ago, Emily pressed her tiny hand into that plaster. I can see her 6-year-old face even now, scrunched up in a gap-toothed grin, blond hair everywhere, feeling the cool slime ooze between her fingers. If you look closely, you can see her fingerprints. It’s a moment frozen blue.

Why have we kept so much stuff? It’s been hard even for me to understand sometimes, but after running across that plaster handprint, I think I understand a little better. Every box and bag on our basement floor is a an effort to hold time. To roll lost moments in our hands again, to pinch them between our fingers. Maybe part of me believes that, if I pick up the right book or hold the right toy, a portal to the past will spring open and I’ll be able to walk through it. And then I’ll hear my children giggle like preschoolers again. I’ll pick them up and swing them around, I’ll read them bedtime stories and tuck them in. They’ll put their tiny hands in mine and squeeze like they’ll never let go.

But in the end, they do. They have to. That’s the joy and tragedy of parenthood. They let go. And so must you.

The folks at Goodwill are getting to know us pretty well these days. We’ve taken boxes and bags of our old stuff to them, and I hope whoever claims our old memories makes some great new ones of their own.

But we’re keeping quite a bit, too. Sure, you can’t return to the past, no matter how much stuff you keep in the basement. But sometimes, you can touch a bit of it. You can feel the edge of a handprint molded in sharp, vibrant blue. And maybe you can better remember the hand that made it.