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I was beset by boxes, and at a complete loss for what to do next. My mother-in-law had downsized and, by consequence, my husband and I had upsized.
Our inheritance included Mark’s share of a vast childhood archive: baby clothes, elementary school report cards, and toys—even Tip Toe Turtle, still in his original box. This long, lost cousin of Jiminy Cricket was a vestige of a time when toys were still made in Canada, Orangeville to be precise.
I was sympathetic to the plastic reptile having spent 40 years all dressed up with no place to go, but what in the hell was I supposed to do with him now? Take one last spin through town, perhaps: him entertaining passersby with his paddled feet making melodious musical sounds, me doing my best Al Pacino as Scarface imitation, “Say hello to my little friend.”
Staring at all the boxes I felt an epic wave of storage pains. Mark has always bemoaned the fact that we don’t have a finished basement while I’ve never worried too much about the Edgar Allen Poe-ish underworld “down there”—the pit with no pendulum. (“Don’t you at least want to see the basement?” Mark asked when we first saw the house. “No,” I said, playing peek-a-boo behind one of the pocket doors, “not really.”)
“One box at a time” I whispered to myself, reaching for a cardboard cube with an intriguing black magic marker scrawl across it: “Worthless junk belonging to a sentimental fool.” The contents dated from 1975 to 1980, and chronicled 5 years of my husband’s childhood, from ages 7 to 12.
There was a tin-can telephone, a Red Cross swimming certificate from 1975 which said the candidate had “failed surface survival,” an original 3-panel cartoon series called “Walnuts”—Mark’s obvious, but not totally unoriginal, homage to Charles Schulz—and an undated chain letter which was to have been mailed in 3 days, or else! Poor Valerie Barnes in Trinidad—she never got her letter.
That was it for civilian gear. The rest was mostly astronaut paraphernalia. Like many boys of that era, Mark’s inner space was outer space.
I found a handcrafted rocket gantry, a 1977 Marvel Special Edition Star Wars Magazine, a complete scrapbook of Star Wars comic Strips and dozens of newspaper clippings from the Kingston Whig-Standard covering space-related events from the period: “500 Skylab pieces may survive re-entry,” “Continuous thunder, lightning on Venus,” “Jovian cosmic debris bracelet scientists ‘unexpected’ bonus.”
Then there was the stack of envelopes, postmarked Universal City, CA. One letter, dated July 24, 1979 read:
“Dear Mark: Thank you for your continued support of STAR WARS and the Official Star Wars Fan Club (OSWFC). Your force number will be on the mailing label of the next issue of the newsletter Bantha Tracks, which you will be receiving shortly. Enclosed please find a new membership card. May the Force be with you!”
Mixed-up with the California letters was one dated January 28, 1980 from The National Football League, Park Avenue, New York City. Enclosed were four copies of the NFL Club Addresses, American Conference and National Conference teams.
My husband liked football? Since when?
In more than a decade of marriage I’ve never once seen Mark kick back and relax for football or any other sport. My husband is the one man I know who needs a tutorial as to the combined functionality of couches and TVs.
Ever the curious wife, I took a break from my sorting and found Mark in the kitchen, “Football?” I asked, carrying the stack of old mail. The answer was a mixed bag: puberty, testosterone, girls—new friends with more earthly passions.
As I continued to piece together the timeline, I concluded that the last item to have been tossed into the box was the most telling of all. On May 21, 1980, nearly four months after his first letter from the NFL, my husband, then 12 years old, received what was to be his final correspondence from the OSWFC: A request for membership renewal with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).
The SASE was never sent. My rocket man, Force #40498, had officially touched down.
Worthless junk? Priceless is more like it. There aren’t many women who can point to the exact moment in time when their husbands, who were once little boys, grew up. Sentimental? Absolutely—and, foolish or not, I’m glad for it.
Have we solved the age-old dilemma of what to keep and what to throw away? Not a chance. We probably never will. At least we can agree, though, that some things are more important than others—may the force be with us as we continue to try to tell the difference.