Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Life as Metaphor

Last week was spent cleaning the basement. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Not so much. The curse of the writer is to spin life events into metaphors. When you’re ankle deep in dust and memories, it helps pass the time.
We’ve spent well over thirty years in this big old house, and in consequence have been able to store things: old furniture; boxes from many times; tools and lampshades and such. Problem is, when it’s time to clear some space for a furnace estimator, it’s a bigger job than just shifting stuff around. Room must be made, access must be found. Things must be organized, sorted through, disposed of.
Once we get past the “just one more cup of coffee” stage that first day, we plod down the stairs to begin. We run through the tool room with efficiency. Lumber can be stacked against this wall, and tools are sorted into various containers. Much sweeping ensues. Not too bad. Then we walk into the storeroom, filled not only with our belongings, but with things that belong to our children, now grown & without much storage space of their own. We open boxes to check content: forgotten toys, old college books, bits & pieces of enthusiasms now relegated to the past.
Memories waft out like old potpourri, and what was just a spatial, muscular exercise becomes a mental slide show of our kids at different stages. Along with sneezes from the dust come lumps in the throat and yet deeper recognition of how much time has passed. Cross-country skis evoke recollections of sliding across mountain snow, listening to our kids alternate between laughing and complaining of the cold, then drinking hot chocolate at a little diner in Nederland.
I find a box of doll clothes, some sewn by my grandmother. She had a treadle sewing machine, and she taught me to sew on it when I was nine or ten. I pick up a small flowered dress with ties for a bow in the back & remember the doll who wore it. Her name was Joanne.
We move old doors–heavy ones!–in the furnace room itself, clearing space, finding two old floor lamps. My husband attaches a ceiling light and now we can see how much fine dust has to be swept & vacuumed. Leaves have sneaked in through the ventilation window & I rake them up, cast suddenly into autumn even as the sun shines through the cracked glass. Christmas decorations are moved to the tool room until the fate of the furnace is known.
We finish on Labor Day and celebrate with hot showers & glasses of wine. Our magic alley (the things we set out disappear!) is lined with boxes, an old television, red shutters that were in our daughter’s room when she was a child. By the next day, much of what we’ve left is gone.
I’m still finding places to tuck things, like the afterthoughts of a first draft. I have a bittersweet feeling of accomplishment: we’ve reduced our pile of belongings, we’ve organized what we still have. The lingering sense of melancholy is the same emotion I feel at museums, when I view what was once important to those who lived before my time. Sigh.
Posted by Yvonne Montgomery at 1:05 PM 2 comments Labels: , ,