Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Can Jenny come out and play?

Whenever I take a trip back home to Michigan, the memories of my childhood come flooding back to me. (Yes, I went to college there as well, but those years of drinking have left the late 90s a daze of barley and hops.) I like to drive by my old elementary school to see where I spent many winters sledding and summers playing softball; "The Flats" near my old middle school (now a charter school) where the tough kids would always meet after school to fight, and my old high school (now the middle school) where I spent many hours out on the practice field for marching band practice, running the halls for basketball practice, and in the music room perfecting my senior solo on the marimba. I like to drive slowly down Main Street to notice the new stores and remember what used to be there. I end up on my street where I spent many years playing tennis, Frisbee, '500', roller-skating in the road in the metal skates that attached to your shoes; and in front of my house where we’d play "Pickle" between the front walks of my house and the neighbors, whiffleball in the backyard, and where we’d rake the leaves into 'houses'. We didn't 'do' piles; no, my father, who designed the addition to our house in the late 70s, taught us to rake the leaves in square ‘rooms’ as if you were looking at the blueprint of a house from above.

I remember the neighborhood kids and where each of them lived. Jason had the Atari and taught us karate in our backyard. He had a basketball hoop and we’d play 'around the world' in his narrow driveway. Occasionally the ball would get stuck up on the roof and we had to be careful of the windows. He was the big brother we never had. David was cross-eyed and had Legos, erector sets, and other 'boy' toys. I played more with him than I did with his older sister Becky. He thought his banana seat bike was faster than our 10-speed, so we'd have races down the street. Brothers Adam and Tom lived at the end of the alley. We didn't like them, so we'd routinely have rock fights with them. Luckily, no windows were broken.

We were always outside playing something - TV tag, frozen tag, bloody murder, climbing trees, etc. None of us wore watches, but we could tell time based on the front porch light; it was time to go in when the light came on. We’d beg our parents to stay out 10 to 15 minutes longer.

This latest trip brought back the same memories. I flipped through old photo albums with my GF and the house from those early 80s pictures looks very similar over 30 years later – the wood paneling, the dirty carpet (now dotted with carpet squares) the furniture, and the mess. The Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia set is still in "Grandma's room" along with childhood artwork, magic sets, roller skates, books, puzzles, and other memories. This is the junk room. To my mother, these are her memories.

The garage is my fathers junk room; those are his memories – shells from when he would trap snapping turtles, mounted antlers, old yard tools, fishing supplies, tools. It's 'stuff' he'll need. Sometime. The two car garage barely holds one car.

We stayed at my parents' cottage for the weekend; the cottage my parents bought from my grandparents in the mid 80s. It was our summer weekend getaway growing up, and is now my parents escape. The garage has become 'storage' for 'stuff' – my grandparents furniture (they both died in early 2000s), our life jackets when we were kids, fishing polls, tools (my grandfathers, my dad's wood chipper, grills, and chairs. I think of the monthly 'cleanse' I go through – getting rid of clothes and papers I think I need – and how my parents are overdue for one. They are about 10 years overdue. I look around the cottage garage and see so many memories, and I can understand why it's hard to get rid of the stuff. A lot of it is leftover from my grandparents – my dad’s parents – and getting rid of it would be like ridding the place of them. Yes, the comics on the wall give it character, but do we need the broken lawn chairs and old license plates?

It wouldn't be fair to throw things out without them knowing, so I wonder how I can do my part in helping them clean up. I want to hold onto some memories of my own without adding clutter to my place, and do that in the form of Lawn Darts. These are the jarts the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission warned you about. No foam tips on these puppies! I remember playing with these as a kid and no one ever lost an eye or was injured. I was happy to find them in the original box with everything still intact, ready to use.

I can't wait to have a "lawn games" themed party to bust them out. Maybe I'll grab a Frisbee to toss around, play Pickle, or dig out the Rollerblades and slalom skate around 2 liter pop bottles in the courtyard. I don't think there will be any rock fights, but give a bunch of 30 somethings alcohol and metal tipped flying objects and you never know what could happen!


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