Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Past Perfect

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Past Perfect

Dad, Mom, & Me (I'm a fetus) -- circa 1970
I have been thinking a lot lately about the past. On my daily drive to pick up Erik, I pass beautiful and outrageously expensive Colonial and prow front homes that line the river. I see historic buildings being razed by new owners and newer, much fancier structures rising from the destruction. Remodeling here seems to mean gutting everything until there is only a gluttonous skeleton ready to consume state-of-the-art appliances and furnishings. Heaven forbid something is ten minutes old here! My hometown as I knew it in the glorious 1970s and 1980s is long gone. For instance, the mill that churned out wood products throughout my childhood is hardly recognizable now. It's a trendy collection of shops and restaurants. Instead of the sound of the 5 o'clock whistle I grew up hearing through the pine trees as I played, there is the sound of impatient drivers beeping their horns when a parking space is stolen from them in front of Bath and Body Works. Don't get me wrong--there are some fabulous restaurants and shops there I enjoy on a regular basis, but I fondly remember the days my family rode our bikes there in relative silence as the sun sunk behind the mountains and the ducks followed us along the riverbank. I will never forget those evenings. Although it's sad the past is gone, we are creating new memories with a new backdrop now, and I'm sure I'll cherish those, too.

My parents' house looks pretty much the same as it did when I was growing up. In fact, when my mother's oven went cold in the middle of cooking Thanksgiving dinner last year, she wondered aloud where she would find another oven in that particular shade of poppy red to match the fridge. She loves her kitchen, and although the sink, linoleum, and counters have been recently very tastefully updated, she sees no reason to give up the appliances that she loves. Frankly, neither do I. When they want to improve something, they enjoy doing it, but they do not let the latest trends dictate what they love. I have great respect for that. My father's 1973 Chevy pickup gleams in the driveway as if it just rolled off the lot, and the 1967 Camaro he bought brand new (see photo) is equally cherry, resting safe in storage. They have taught me to appreciate and take care of what I have as well as to appreciate the fun, new, shiny things the world has to offer. We also greatly cherish what the old things in our lives remind us of. My brother and I grew up exploring the quiet, dark upper floors of the museum where my parents work, and we learned about local history out on the sage and juniper-dotted desert. We had so much fun. When I turned on the television last Halloween, I saw my father being interviewed on the news about George, the ghost that haunts the museum where they spend each day working and teaching others about history. George definitely makes his presence known to my parents by bringing them lost items and helping them in their research. Our family has never been afraid of touching and honoring the past. Even Erik enjoys his meals in my old wicker high chair and has had many diapers changed in a family baby buggy that is nearly a century old.

After Brian and I got married, I sold the house I bought five years earlier and was surprised to hear from the Realtor that it was a shame my kitchen had not been updated. Looking around, I realized things hadn't been replaced since 1988, when the house was built. I was completely blind to it because I was perfectly content with what I had and things were built to last back then. It also makes no sense at all to me to discard things that work well to have the latest and greatest. What a waste! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Yesterday I asked my father to retrieve my doll collection from the attic. My parents kindly kept virtually every toy I ever owned. He brought down three dusty boxes containing my formerly most valuable possessions. Everything looked as if I had just packed it away minutes ago. We had a great time going through my things and remembering all of my dolls' names. I found "Baby This 'n That," a doll that waved her arms like a dying cockroach when you squeezed her white baby booties. Unfortunately, my 1974 "Baby That Away" met her demise not long after she was received one Christmas. My little brother accidentally dropped her on the hardwood floor of my bedroom, the hidden door in her crotch flew open, and plastic shrapnel and batteries exploded out of her innards. What a horrific sight! She never went "that away" again. When I moved her arm yesterday, the plastic disintegrated, and her whole extremity came off in my hand. I also noted that most of my dolls with nylon hair looked a bit like Phyllis Diller. Apparently, being in an attic for 30 years gives you the worst case of bed head ever. The best treasure we found required no batteries at all. My teddy bear (Bear) and Snoopy emerged from a box, all of their fur loved off. Bear lost his felt tongue long ago and in its place was a red smile made of yarn lovingly stitched in place by my mother. Both of them have sutures in various locations all over their bodies where they wore thin. I have to thank my parents for keeping things for me and going through them with me yesterday. It brought back wonderful memories.

It's fascinating to take a look into the past. More people should. Either they don't because it brings back unpleasant memories and makes them uncomfortable or they are too busy living in the moment working to acquire the latest and greatest things, throwing the past away without a second thought. Maybe people update things so often to forget. I find that incredibly sad. I am lucky to have many more good memories than bad, and I realize that not everybody does. Of course, I suppose I'm pathologically nostalgic. I prefer my house and the things I own to have some ghosts in them. Will I keep every little memento I acquire and live in the past? No, but my heart breaks a little bit to give some of my old things away and discard chubby, broken-off doll appendages. I will forever hang onto some of the memorabilia from my childhood--not because any of my old things have any monetary value but because they remind me of who I am and how I got here. I adore shiny, new, fancy things, but I'm not afraid to appreciate what I have and take care of it for a lifetime. That's what my parents raised me to do.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

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Blogger Kim, Grandma to Ava,ws said...

I like the way you think, Nancy. I still have mementos from my childhood that never fail to make me smile. Somehow I think that Erik is very lucky to have a mommy who so lovingly cares for her things and her people. God bless.

6:47 PM  
Blogger kathi said...

My grandma got my sister and I each a 'bride doll'. They're like 2 ft. tall in and satin dresses, beautiful. She kept them in her cedar chest and we were only allowed to play with them on the floor in front of the cedar chest, lol. I use to really resent that cedar chest. I still have my bride doll, and I keep her in my grandma's gorgeous cedar chest.

7:00 PM  
Blogger ~Deb said...

Ah, sometimes I feel like that delicate and fragile doll that flew apart. (Except for the crotch part of course!) But there are so many things that can trigger memory. Sense of smell, a certain song from the past (especially those corny 70’s rock songs) and food. Whenever I smell mothballs (I know, shush) I think of my grandmother. She used to reek of them when she would come over because she owned an apartment tenement in Brooklyn where she would throw tons of those puppies in her closet. (Puppies = mothballs.) No animal cruelty here. Just in case someone read that wrong. Geez, I am sidetracking here, sorry! A song from Chicago will trek me back when I was playing outside in our pool with my three older sisters. It’s funny the things we remember while growing up and the songs that still stick in our head.

I absolutely love the photo you put up! How retro!!! And, the story you told about your town changing so much reminds me of the Hamptons in New York. It used to be so quaint and so personal. Now with big boutiques and posh restaurants, it sort of lost its charm to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the most beautiful place in my opinion, but it’s not as young and charming as it used to be. Too many things being rebuilt, too many new contemporary housing being born in a very old neighborhood. It looks like it doesn’t belong there. The old houses that are kept ‘as is’ gives you that feel of how it used to be. I guess everything and everywhere is changing. But the one good thing is, we still have our memories!

Again, another well written post!

6:04 AM  
Blogger Teresa & Shawn said...

Very sweet and a nice tribute to your past and your parents. I love the photo.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

What a beautiful tribute to your childhood. I feel the same way when I see my hometown going from miles and mile of cotton fields, to miles and miles of strip malls.

I bet you get this all the time...but you look just like your mother!! :)

12:42 PM  
Blogger Miss 1999 said...

What a sweet post! You know, I didn't realize that other people honestly remembered when there used to be a (5'o clock whistle) our old plant was torn down, and a brand new Super Wal-Mart stands there now.

It's so sad to watch things change, even if they are for the "better." I'm terminally nostalgic, too. It's been so hard for me to let go of anything, because I enjoy looking back so much :0)

PS: Thanks so much for your sweet comments on my blog, I enjoy visiting with you :0)

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Gua said...

Love, Mom

9:51 AM  
Blogger Kerry said...

I've had a hard time getting on here... I hope this works :)

This was a very sweet post. I was a Barbie fanatic and had a very difficult time last year when my Barbies (@85 of them) had to be thrown out because they were sitting in mildewed water. It's like a piece of your childhood is gone forever :(

I like the convenience of stores loval, but I also don't need to have THREE Targets all within 18 minutes of my house... c'mon is that really necessary???

Happy weekend! :)

12:38 PM  
Blogger Rosemarie said...

I really like the picture!

You made an interesting observation about those who have good memories and tend to hold onto items from their past, which by the way isn’t a bad thing.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Lisa R said...

That is pretty cool and a terrific old picture...My Mom has alot of ine and my sisters old treasures...sometimes it is so nice to think back...Love it

10:01 AM  
Blogger Rosemarie said...

Expanded on my comment and posted. I gave you a shout and a link!

Thanks for provoking my thinking!

3:16 PM  

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