Saying Good-bye to Memories

By Suzy Barile

When is it considered too soon after they leave home to give away your children’s belongings? In my case, my youngest sister took over my bedroom after I moved into an apartment my junior year of college and took very nearly everything I owned – which wasn’t much considering I was the oldest of seven!! Each time I came home for a visit, I was “allowed” to sleep in “her” room.

My daughter, however, is an only child, and for seven years was the only grandchild on both sides of a family that included seven adoring aunts and uncles and four sets of grandparents. As you can imagine, over the course of her infancy and toddlerhood, and from pre-school through 12th grade, we saved a lot of stuff. In what we labeled “forever save” boxes are Jen’s schoolwork, souvenirs from travels, trinkets from shopping trips to the mall, special items she just couldn’t part with, and countless dolls and stuffed animals.

For many parents, school projects and favorite toys provide the most difficulty when it comes to deciding just what goes and what stays. And for how many years? For example, I have living in a basket at the foot of my bed Oglethorpe, a teddy bear who was bigger than me when my Uncle Bill proudly presented him after I was born, plus my baby doll Tootles, who is missing hair and fingers, clothes and shoes, and my mother’s Dorothy Lamour doll. This film star of the 1930s, 40’s and 50’s was best known for her roles in the “Road to…” movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and was honored with a china doll featuring a head of long, dark brown hair and a face made up to resemble her.

I’m certain the doll once was attired in a fancy outfit such as the Edith Head-designed silk and cloth-of-gold sarongs Lamour wore in so many of her movies, but for as long as I can remember, she’s been dressed in a baby’s outfit, origin unknown. Nonetheless, this doll was a treasured Christmas gift that stayed with my mother until she had a little girl who could love it as much – and then it became mine.

Clearly my family has a hard time getting rid of anything labeled sentimental, even though I recently absolved myself of any guilt for giving away the fancy pencils Jen purchased for a quarter every Friday at her elementary school store – the last one from June 1993 when she finished 5th grade. When I arrived at my appointed time last week to help students in the Wake Tech Writing Center, I presented a dozen or so brightly colored pencils bearing such slogans as “Green is Good” and “Happy Halloween” to the center’s coordinator. I promised to continue bringing them in by the handful until the plastic box in which they had been so lovingly stored was empty. Pens and pencils seem to disappear quickly from the center, so he was more than delighted to accept these cast-offs.

But fancy pencils that cost a quarter are different from what I discovered ruined after our 14-year-old hot water heater died and flooded the basement: In water-soaked cardboard boxes and plastic bags were dozens of Jen’s dolls and stuffed animals – soggy, smelly, mildewed. As I sorted through the moldy remains, I whispered into the phone to my sister -- the younger one who moved into my bedroom all those years ago -- “I won’t tell her yet.”

Even though Jen was emphatic when she graduated from college that she wanted nothing she hadn’t already taken from her bedroom, I’d been hesitant to clean out a small chest containing letters from her Nana, who died just two years ago. And now I wasn’t certain I should part with the Baby Smurf, Rainbow Bright, plastic Snoopy, and hand-made rag doll that were gifts from her Granny, who died in 1991. So into the washer and dryer they went, on the hand-wash cycle, with my fingers crossed that today’s advanced technology would leave them in good shape. After an extra wash and two drying times, I was not disappointed.

Now I must tell Jen that many of her stuffed animals and dolls were ruined, even though I’d saved a few, and face what for me will probably be the sad response that she still doesn’t want any of her childhood belongings. Should that happen, I will give some away to children who will love them. But I believe I’ll be getting a larger basket for the foot of my bed!

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