Whether you live near or far from the home where you grew up, there comes a time when you go down into the old family basement to haul remnants of your past to the dumpster.
That time came for me on my most recent visit to New Jersey when my brother and I and some hired arms hauled several decades worth of half-buried memories up from the basement of the house where we grew up.
Emptying a basement is often associated with mourning or natural disaster, but in this case our reason for taking action was no more dramatic than decades of mold. After my brother bought the family home he realized that he had trouble breathing in the house due to the moldy basement.
Living overseas put a damper on any fantasies of carrying objects across the ocean. Where would I place them anywhere? My basement space in Paris is already brimming with half-buried foreign memories.
The four of us—my brother, the hired arms, and I—set to work in the basement, but before long my brother and I found ourselves standing guard by the dumpster.
“Maybe someone can fix this?” It was a long telescope that once stood by the picture windows in the playroom.
“This is probably worth something to someone.” It was a collection of old cameras.
“Are you sure you don’t want this?” It was a broken birdbath.
“I remember that picture.” It was among musty photos in a busted picture frame.
So it went: A plastic phonograph circa 1970, a set of Year Book Encyclopedia, a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, sports equipment, pieces of carpet, old frames, text books, our old chemistry set, musty chairs, broken radios and cameras and tape recorders, boxes of bank statements, a plastic army helmet, a pottery wheel, … box after box and object after object wavering between nostalgia and a need to eradicate mold.
“Going once, going twice… dumped.”
We found my mother’s 78rpm collection, a sister’s Janis Joplin, a brother’s Fiddler on the Roof bar-mitzvah present. We found my record collection.
There were all of my Alice Coopers, my Led Zeppelins, my Bad Companys. And my REO Speedwagon, Traffic, Supertramp, Grand Funk Railroad, ELO, Edgar Winter Group, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, Patti Smith, Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Scorpions, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Queen, Pink Floyd…
That Jesus Christ Superstar was once of the first albums I bought through Columbia House mail-order. Who was the girl in my 3rd grade class who gave me this Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Many of the records were warped or incrusted with mold. The covers had been eaten away by cellar time. Anyway, we’d already dumped the record player.
“We could sell these to collectors,” we’d say before throwing them out, well, most of them.
We filled two dumpsters.
The mold has since been treated. My brother now breathes easily in his house. His basement is now ripe for his own children’s memories.
It was April, so I took the opportunity, as I always do during my springtime visits, to do some planting in the yard, something I don’t get the chance to do much in Paris. I returned to the dumpster to retrieve several of the memories to place in this year’s garden. A broken birdbath became the sun. I placed the broken telescope on the birdbath pedestal.
My sister came over one day and saw what I’d done with the telescope. She said, “You can’t leave that outside!”
“I pulled it out from the dumpster,” I said.
“But it’ll rust!”
© 2011, Gary Lee Kraut