A Silent Legacy
Letting go does not come easily for me; I often struggle with what to hold on to and when to let go.
My son and Santa
Letting go isn’t easy, not for me. I save things that no longer have a useful purpose: chipped mugs from places I’ve never been, broken earrings, the ivory chiffon empire-waist dress that I wore to the senior prom. My maternity clothes are neatly folded and stored in the attic, even though days of bearing children are long gone. I have read many books on how to “De-clutter and De-stress” my life. Most of them are also stored in the attic.
My meticulously organized and tidy daughter, 20, speaking slowly, looking right into my eyes, reprimands in what I call the tone, “Mahhhhhhhm, throw it all out. I don’t want to have to go through all this junk when you’re dead. And I’m gonna’ throw it all out anyway, so you might as well save me the trouble.”
She doesn’t seem to have exactly the same attachment issues as I do. And she’s already anticipating my death.
Leaving the house where my children grew up was more painful than leaving my marriage. I would not leave any of it behind. I took the white rocker with the missing runner where I sat late at night with a croupy, breathless child.
I took my mother’s slippers so I would not forget the sounds of her restless feet, or the smell of a woman who once modeled for famous magazines and now smelled of urine and refused to bathe. I took the curtains from the moldy, paneled playroom with the green and gold-flecked foil wallpaper where we whittled soft smelly wood for numerous Pinewood Derbies.
I took pictures of the closet door where we dutifully recorded everyone’s height, including Snickers, our Sheltie, and Nana who was growing down, not up. All of it stuffed into boxes and torn plastic bags, which I saved, from stores that went out of business years ago: E.J. Korvette’s, Arnold Constable’s, A & S.
Eventually, the house was broom swept clean, and what couldn’t be contained in the boxes was stacked three and a half feet high along the curb; mounds and mounds of items from my once perfectly appointed home revealing painful, personal stories to passersby whose last names I did not know. Somewhere in that pile were the remnants of my life, horribly disheveled and chaotically arranged. All the rest of the items were heaped high on a borrowed pick up truck driven by my son.
On top of the truck, a silent sentinel, a paunchy 5-foot Santa, molded of cheap plastic and purchased at White’s Department Store in Massapequa Park, LI, circa 1971. He was winking, his puffy once red cheeks crumpled with mirth, and I wondered what he thought was so funny.
After all, one arm was missing, and the other was holding a lantern that would no longer light. His body, once able to rotate from the waist, had been paralyzed for years and looked incongruous precariously perched atop the truck. Listing to the left, he leaned on the white wicker vanity table my daughter had to have at 10 and discarded at 10½. All of it, in my attic. An odd legacy for my children…
On Arlington Avenue in Menands, a suburb of Albany, NY, there are well-tended homes with “Welcome” mats under grapevine wreaths and many attics filled with other people’s memories. This is where my newly married son has invited me to share Christmas Eve.
As I drive up the hill, ubiquitous icicle lights are suspended from numerous eaves along the street, and I struggle in the dark to identify which house is my son’s. On the right, there is a small brick house with large, brightly colored Christmas lights wrapped around each window.
The sign on the lamp post urges, “Santa, Please Stop Here!” As I get closer, there is someone on the lawn who catches my eye, a very short pudgy man waving something back and forth.
It’s my silent sentinel looking very much at home on my son’s snowy lawn. His amputated arm has been restored and his plump body is rotating from the waist, illuminating the path lined with 18-inch plastic candy canes.
My son comes to the door and happily announces, “I fixed Santa!”
My daughter may think my attic is filled with useless junk, but to me, my attic holds the eternal landscape of our lives, the evidence that it all happened. Not the way I want to remember it, but the way it did. Countless photographs record the good times, the cluttered contents in the attic record the rest.
Here is irrefutable proof of all that I cannot remember and all that I cannot forget. It’s all here in my attic.
Except for Santa. He’s gone to stay with my son.
(published, Times Union "Life Stories")