Saturday, April 23, 2011

Personal Archaeology

I continue to excavate the garage. I think I'm finally beginning to see a dim light at the end of the tunnel. Two more carloads were taken to the thrift store, another box and a half of books were sorted out for the library book sale. The trash dumpster is full and I have two large piles of discards that are ready to fill it back up again after the garbage pickup on Tuesday. All the boxes full of books have been culled down to the volumes I want to keep and all of those have been put into clear bins so I can find what I want when I want it.

On Thursday I had a small air-conditioning crisis and while waiting for the repairman to arrive, my nervous energy led me to clear most of what is stored in the attic down to a level where I could decide what to do with it. All that is left up there now is an odd assortment of chairs that we brought over from my grandmother's house after she died. Getting all the old, unwanted Christmas decorations down led to my donating a large portion of them to the thrift store. I still have a few bins of yarn and magazines to sort through, but I'm able to walk all the way around the parked car now and if I decide to take a ride on my bicycle, I can actually get to it.

One bin I explored contained bits and pieces of old clothing and odds and ends that I thought might come in handy for a Halloween costume. Some years ago the office had quite a high participation in our annual chance to dress up and get a little crazy and I was always game for a chance to make a fool of myself. Sadly, either from our growing too big for such foolishness or the fact that a good number of us have progressed to the age where we just don't feel the need to get silly, there aren't many who still come to work in costume on Halloween. It had been years since I had plowed through all my props and I had forgotten what was in there. There were masks, hats, a grass skirt and a flowered lei. There were also some things that I had worn once upon a time and thought might come in useful for "good old days" costuming.

If you are a lady of a certain age, perhaps you will remember the fuzzy mohair sweaters that were all the rage in the early 1970s. The rich girls swept through school in clouds of soft pink or blue and I was fiercely envious, but they were out of our price range. I ended up with two that I picked up on some clearance rack somewhere, both hideous colors that did nothing for me, but by golly I had mohair sweaters. The mustard yellow one has disintegrated over time, but the green one is still mostly intact.

I found an old knit pantsuit in shades of brown that I dearly loved back when it was in style. Oddly enough, it would probably blend right in with the current wave of mod prints that are popping up everywhere, but I don't think it would fit anymore. I also found a dress that Mother made for me back when prairie dresses were all the rage. While I will never wear it again, I will probably keep it in the back of the closet as a souvenir of those days when most of my clothing was handmade by Mother during the summer vacation. Thanks to her ability with a sewing machine, I was generally in style despite our being financially strapped.

I will also probably hang onto 3 thread-bare shirts. Again, if you are of a certain age, perhaps you remember the fad of embroidered blue chambray shirts. Girls adept at embroidery embellished shirts not only for themselves but for their boyfriends. I made two for myself and one for little brother. All have had the tails worn off them, but I can't bring myself to throw them away because I remember how much fun they were to create.

My favorite was the one with Heathcliff across the back. Mother drew the cartoon cat freehand on the shirt for a guide for me to work.

David's shirt had a nice tropical sunset spread across the back.

I also put smaller motifs all over the shirts, including the cuffs, and the button placket. We who did embroidery were pretty cool wearing our handiwork. For now the shirts will hang in the back of the closet, but I wonder if it would be worthwhile to cut the blocks of embroidery out and create some kind of shadow frame collage. Still pondering.

I did not find just forgotten clothing. I uncovered programs and ticket stubs from concerts and plays attended and long forgotten. I found my Ann Richards bumper sticker and my address book from college days. I found a treasured cookie recipe I had been given by a high school friend, stuck in a cookbook that had lost favor along the way. I had mourned the loss of that cookie recipe for many years.

Excavation is the proper term. I am peeling away layer after layer of my own life and it is amazing to suddenly uncover an item that immediately transports you across time and reminds you vividly of a particular moment in the past. I've found a lot of immaterial detritus that has been discarded, but I've also relocated some lovely memories.


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