Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Show & Tell: It came from the crawl space...

When my sister & (especially) I moved out of our parents' home, we left a ton of stuff behind.

In the summer of 1980, we were preparing to move out of the house we'd been living in for the past six years. I was home for the summer, working, after my first year at the University of Manitoba, & my sister was graduating from high school. Finding no houses they liked in the new town, my parents decided they would build a house.

My dad went on ahead to start his new job while my mother stayed behind with my sister & me to pack up & get us off to university. In late August, the moving van pulled up & took our things away to storage, & my mom drove my sister & me to our respective university residences, and then proceeded to live with my dad in a motel (with sanity-saving visits to my grandparents and other friends & relatives) for the next three-plus months, moving into the new house just before we arrived home for Christmas vacation.

My parents moved again, in the spring of 1984, just before I finished grad school. And they've been living in the same house ever since then -- 25 years. Their house is a split-level, built in the early 1980s. Beneath the upstairs bedrooms is a family room, bathroom & spare bedroom -- but below the main floor level, there is just a crawl space, about four feet high. That's where they store most of their "stuff" -- including some boxes that have not been opened since our move in 1980.

My mother has been complaining for years that she's getting too old (even though she's only 68) & creaky to be crawling around in the crawl space (although she recently got a small wheeled stool that helps immensely). Not to mention that all that stuff crammed down there, close to the furnace & hot water heater, is an enormous fire hazard (eek).

So, for several days during the past two weeks while I was visiting, my sister & I helped Mom haul dusty, musty boxes up from the basement and into the garage, and started going through them.

Oh. My. God.

I knew I was a packrat... but even I couldn't believe some of the stuff that we dug up. (Did we EVER throw anything out??)

Here's (some of) what it looked like in the garage while we were going through some of the boxes. (Some of the stuff in the background is normal garage clutter and did not come from the basement.) You can see my mom, sitting behind the table & in front of the refrigerator.

My sister kept insisting, "I've already gone through my stuff. That stuff there is all Lori's."

Well ha ha -- much to her surprise and chagrin, the first four boxes we brought up were all her stuff. ; )

But there was definitely stuff there that was mine -- stuff that I knew was there, but also stuff I had totally, completely forgotten about.

Like a stack of cheap, dime store scrapbooks, with bubblegum cards and posters from Tiger Beat and 16 magazines of the Partridge Family & Osmonds & Bay City Rollers scotch-taped inside. The scotch tape, of course, had totally lost any sticking power after 30-40 years, & everything fell out with each page that I turned. (I was a scrapbooker even then -- but obviously not an archivally safe one!)

Like an entire carton full of pristine Tiger Beat and 16 magazines from the 1970s. (I think we must have saved every issue we ever bought.) And another box full of somewhat musty comic books (mostly Archie & the gang) from the late 1960s & early 1970s, some of them priced at a mere 12 cents each (!). (Ditto.) We tossed the teen mags & told my mother she could try to sell the comics at her next garage sale, if she wanted.

Like ALL of the posters that hung on the walls of my university dorm rooms. Including a poster for a dance that Harlequin played at John Taylor Collegiate in Winnipeg in the early 1980s -- signed (personally, to me!) by all the band members! I have never set foot in JTC in my life. I have a hazy memory that someone knew I liked the band (they played at many of our high school and university residence dances before becoming rich & famous... well, about as rich & famous as a band from Winnipeg got in the early 1980s) & got their autographs for me, but I can't for the life of me remember who it was.

I saved that one, as well as the poster from the movie "Reds" (with Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton) which my friend Heather & I went to see on my 21st birthday (January 12, 1982) at the beautiful old (but now sadly abandoned) Metropolitan Theatre, across the street from Eatons department store (sadly gone; now the site of the MTS Centre) in downtown Winnipeg. (We both loved the movie & begged for the posters from the manager after the show.)

And a poster of Bruce Springsteen, which hung in dh's dorm room, the one year he attended U of M. I already knew him, but I was on his floor, visiting some guys I knew one day, poked my head in the open door & said, "Hey, who's the hunk up on your wall?" "That's Bruce Springsteen," he said, patiently (probably thinking, "duhhh..."). And that's when it all began. ; ) He gave the poster to me when he was leaving to head back to Toronto for the summer, & then off to grad school. Next time I go home, I'm bringing back a mailing tube (so that I can put it into my suitcase without crushing it) & I'm going to get a frame for it & put it up in our basement. : )

Like a whole banker's box full of notebooks and projects from my school years (as well as others from university). Before the 1980 move, my mom gave us each a box & told us any school stuff we wanted to keep had to fit inside one of those boxes. So we had already chucked a lot of stuff back then -- but yikes, there was still an awful lot of stuff there. I kept my very first Grade 1 reading workbook (Dick & Jane!!), all of my essays & a few other projects, and all the valentines I could find (yes, I still had all those too) that my grade school crush Kenny B. had given me ; ) -- but chucked everything else.

Needless to say, going through -- and dumping -- so much of my past was hard, and emotional. I always had visions of going through those boxes someday & showing this stuff to my kids.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

(Of course, who's to say they would have been interested anyway, right? They'd have just had to go through it all & dump it when I was gone.)

For some reason, I felt a particular pang looking through the Barbie dolls & clothes (some of them from the early 1960s -- vintage stuff, albeit well used and not in mint condition) that I shared with my sister. "I don't know if I'm ready to part with these yet," I told my mother. "What are you going to do with them?" she said. I left before we made any definitive decisions. I'm hoping she doesn't sell it all anyway.

The most emotional part for me, though, came when I opened one of the first boxes we brought up.

When I was pregnant, I had mentioned to my mother that I'd like to use my christening dress for my own baby's baptism, if I she could find it. (I'd seen it before and knew she'd saved it.) My daughter was stillborn long before we had to start planning a baptism, but I often wondered what had happened to the little white christening dress, and my baby book. At one point, my mom confessed to me that she hadn't seen them in years & was afraid they had gotten lost in the shuffle of one of our moves.

But, going through one of the boxes, my eye caught some labelling on the side. I delved down under a pile of old clothes. And came up with three small boxes. I immediately knew what they were, and ran into the house, in tears, to get my mother.

One box contained my baby book.

One box contained a little red & white sweater that one of my mother's high school girlfriends had knit for me when I was a toddler, with distinctive little buttons, shaped like an owl's face (which I vividly remember wearing).

And one box contained my christening outfit.

My christening dress (early 1960s style -- short and sheer over underslip -- sleeves frayed), & little white slippers with blue ribbon ties (badly yellowed).

Closeup of the little slippers.

A little embroidered bib stored in the same box.

(I wish I had a photo of me as a baby wearing the outfit that I could show you.) (There ARE photos; I just don't have any here in my immediate possession.)

We didn't get the entire crawl space cleared out (if that's even possible). And I know there is more of my stuff in the well-stuffed closet in the upstairs bedroom that was briefly mine (for the nine months, post-grad & pre-wedding, that I lived with my parents). Including the pale blue gown that I bought for my high school graduation at Polo Park in Winnipeg for the princely sum of $65 -- the most expensive dress I had ever owned up to that time -- and only wore that one time. And the hideous long blue gown that I sewed myself as a 4-H project for my Grade 9 junior high graduation (probably the last garment that I ever sewed, come to think of it). And the coral pink dress with the white crossstitch embroidery on the sleeves, neckline and pockets that I had made for a year-end Grade 8 home ec project. (I found the accompanying notes for the dress while going through my old school stuff, and the teacher's marks and comments. I got an A+.) I know my old diaries are all in a box there (eek), & all my Bay City Rollers memorabilia, including a big box of letters from some of the penpals I had back then.

But we did tackle a huge chunk of it, and get rid of a whole lot of paper. There is no curbside recycling in my parents' town, so we had to take everything to the recycling depot uptown. We made at least three trips with the trunk & backseat of my mom's car fully loaded.

Of what we went through, I managed to whittle down what I wanted to keep into one box (which my parents will keep, for now). I'm hoping that someday, they will come out here by car again, or dh & I will make the car trip ourselves, & bring some boxes back with us. It's at least a 30 hour drive, going straight through. But with me not driving and dh not having much experience as a long distance driver, it would take us at least three or four days to drive there. One way. So, because our vacation time is short & precious to us, we have always flown. My mother insists that dh must make that trip someday, so that he can see just how far away he has taken me!

I have one or two other (fun) items that I photographed that I hope to share with you all in a future Show & Tell. : ) Meanwhile, hop over to the master list on Melissa's blog to check out what others are showing & telling this week.

And if you didn't see it on last week's Show & Tell, check out the video of Melissa's keynote reading at BlogHer of one of her most memorable posts. Reading the words onscreen was priceless; but to listen to her read it, live, and hear the audience reaction, will have tears running down your face. First, she touches your funnybone; then, she touches your heart.


  1. Awesome! And your mother preserved all of that!!

    I thoroughly love rummaging through yester-year's stuff, and it brings out so many memories. You know, the dress, booties and bib are beautiful!!!

    Am glad that parts of your childhood are back!

  2. Oh wow...what a trip down memory lane. What a beautiful little dress.

  3. I've gone through my boxes several times and am always amazed how much I saved and refused to purge the time before. Things I really can't remember why I saved them.
    I'm glad you found your dress, slippers and your sweater with the owl buttons.

  4. I've only gone through a few of the boxes my dad has. I'm terrified of going through ALL of them! I hate clutter, but I know I wouldn't be able to part with all of those memories.

    I love your dress. It's so sweet! Great job to your mom for keeping all of that stuff!

  5. I had to take all of my stuff when I was in my 20's - mom sold our house and moved into a condo. I lost some of my best stuff, though.

    Your christening dress was gorgeous!

  6. We are still looking for some of the baby books that my mom saved for me and my sister in the event that we had kids. So far, no luck. And we've torn apart three houses to search! However, like your mom, my own mom saved our christening dress and a few boxes of newborn girls clothing. Last week, she washed it all... just in case Petit is a girl. I hope to get to use it.

    And another thing to note: don't toss those comics! My dad came across a few that we had kept from years ago. One in particular was a rare one and when he had it priced at a local store, the comic that sold in a 3-pack back in the 70s for 25 cents is a rare one! It's priced at over $400 today! We're gonna hang onto it a little longer!

  7. Wow, what a treasure trove of stuff!

  8. Good work! It always feels good to sort through and purge of things, but I cannot imagine how hard it must've been to see those baby-related things.

    It is a beautiful dress... and I'd love to see your baby picture in it, too.

  9. if you had the patience, you could probably sell a lot of that stuff - even the tiger beats that you through out!

    i love the pic of your christening dress.

  10. Remembering Katie with you today, Loribeth. xo

  11. How I would have loved to go through your boxes with you, especially the Tiger Beats.

    And also to abide with you while you rediscovered the christening gown.

    It's lovely, by the way.

  12. You know, it's funny ... the rediscovering pieces of our past. And I think you've just given me a new post to write. Because while we were lucky enough to have children, I found myself, the other day, putting aside some wooden and heirloom toys for beloved visitors with younger children ... and maybe, I was thinking to myself, for potential grandchildren. And then realizing what a huge assumption I was making. And feeling so torn about that knowing.

    Thank you for this ... and even though this post was written long ago ... thinking of the you in that moment discovering the beautiful christening dress.