As a rule, I avoid basements; they all seem dark, dank, cluttered and unfriendly. Truth be told I avoid the stairs leading down to basements whenever possible as well. Knowing this, my husband, Jay, kindly took on the intimidating task of excavating our basement in preparation for our move. As he sorted and packed he would set aside the things he wanted me to go through, not sure if they were things I wanted to keep or not.
I discovered one such article perched on a box, quietly awaiting its fate. Next to some Christmas decorations sat an old leather purse. Not much larger then a cigar box it was the color of butterscotch left on the burner a bit too long. The purse had smooth rectangle sides that angled in where they met at the top, creating a long-sided triangle shape for the purse. Demure black stitching lined the border of the small zippered pocket on the side and a tiny gold rooster logo was attached near the top. Two short stitched leather straps served as handles and the leather was marred with scratches and wear.
I could imagine what Jay saw as he looked at the purse; it was just an old purse I didn’t use anymore. What I saw when I looked at that purse was a long haired young girl of twenty, shopping at Ayres. The girl had recently been told by her husband of six months that he was in love with someone else and their marriage was over. She was engaged in the apparently age old custom of buying expensive things that her soon to be ex-husband will get the bills for at some later date. As she strode through the store hell bent on running up that charge card her eyes fell on a small leather purse. The price of the purse was Twenty-five Dollars, which was an absurd amount of money for a purse at the time and far more then she had ever spent on such a thing. She had never even owned a leather purse. By the time she had it in her hands and felt its smooth soft leather and saw the tiny gold rooster on its side, she had made up her mind. She bought that little leather purse.
I’m sure you have guessed, I was that young girl, many, many years, many, many lifetimes ago. It turned out that the, someone else, was in fact my slightly older sister who I had always been very close to……. but that is a story for another day. That old purse bought so long ago will be an antique soon. It amazed me that seeing it setting there among the other flotsam that it had the power to conjure the memory of that day so vividly to my mind.
While I searched through the purse looking for that hundred dollar bill we all think we have tucked away and forgotten in our old purses, I found something else. I found a very old TWA (for you young ones, Trans World Airlines) boarding pass. It was a date in November of 1976, the first time I had ever flown in an airplane. I was pregnant with my daughter Christina and was flying from Indianapolis to Denver Colorado so I could drive back home with my husband. He had been in school there for three months. I remember, I was wearing my favorite maternity top. It was a striped sweater in shades of green with a black turtleneck. I remember, the man I was seated next to was very kind to the nervous first time flyer and he helped me find my way in the Denver airport. I remember my husband’s face as we spotted each other in the airport corridor.
The people that know about these things say that the objects are not the memories and they are correct they are not. They are however the things that signal your brain to bring that memory front and center A.S.A.P.
The need to keep the stuff that prompts those memories must be inherent in all of us to some degree. We treasure the mementos of the watershed moments in our lives, the births, the deaths, the graduations. We store them in boxes that fill up our attics, closets and basements. Is this our brains way of organizing our memories, are they downloaded to these items for later retrieval like an external hard drive or offsite storage facility? It almost makes me understand the strong compulsion to hoard, almost.
We continue to pack, sort, dispose of and re-evaluate our possessions and thankfully the basement is empty. The closets upstairs, yes, there is an upstairs, await and I am sure along with the old clothes and extra blankets I will find some powerful “stuff”.
And of course, that little leather purse and its contents will be heading west.
--Diana for the Poplar Grove Muse
--Diana for the Poplar Grove Muse