The Attic

I am in the attic moving boxes around and making a pile to throw out. This is both necessary and therapeutic. Necessary because we have way too much junk up here. Therapeutic because we have lots of memories up here.

I’m holding in my hands a rain fly for a tent that no longer exist. The tent has been gone for years, but for some reason I decided that the rain fly could possibly serve some future purpose. And I was right. It would appear that roaches and other critters needed it for shelter. It is so brittle that the more I handle it the more it crumbles into little pieces of plastic dust on the attic floor.

Still I debate with myself. It could be good. Maybe a grill cover? Maybe a small tarp for hauling stuff in the back of the truck? It would probably leak like a sieve, but you never know. It could still work. Right?

I put it in the junk pile to be tossed out.

The real motivation for the attic makeover is that it’s a mess up here. A hailstorm back in 2011 beat the living daylights out of our roof. When we had the shingles replaced, we ended up with the salt and pepper effect of wood and shingle slivers scattered all over the attic. Inside boxes. Stuck to clothes. Lying in the insulation.

Then, a couple of years ago we had the attic sealed with foam insulation. They vacuumed out all the blown in stuff, made up fake walls where needed, and sprayed the underside of the roof deck, along with toy wagons, light bulbs, Christmas decorations and one snakeskin. The crew piled up all of our stuff out of their way, covered some of it, but not enough. It has been one goshawful mess ever since.

The thing about cleaning up an attic is this. It would go a lot faster if I would stop going through the boxes, looking at stuff. If I could just do a quick look-see so I know what it is and where to put it, that would be fine. But once I open a box, I can’t resist taking my time to investigate the contents.

Here’s a box that is clearly marked “BOOKS”. I have moved enough boxes of books to know that even a small box of books weighs the same as two concrete blocks. This box is light. My interest is peaked. So, I pull the lid off and look inside.

On top is a cassette player from around 1969. Billy Hearn and I used this device to record ourselves belching. We also recorded arm pit noises. Boys are goofy. I would also set the microphone in front of the record player so I could record Jim Croce and play it back over and over again until I could figure out all the chords. There were no You Tube how-to videos in 1970.

I realize now what I should have done was to record my Dad telling one of his stories. I should have made a tape of Christmas or a family reunion. I should have handed the mic to Aunt Annie and let her talk about the old days. If I had them, those tapes would be like gold.

Over here is a plastic bag of stuffed animals. I peak through the contents. A tiger. A bear. A horsey. A Boa Constrictor. Probably from The Jungle Book. Some of them still have the smell of a child on them. Or, maybe that’s the odor of gastric fluids from one of those long nights in 1989.

There are games galore. Two Monopoly boxes. One of them from my own childhood. A Scrabble game that Noah had on the Ark. The spinner from Twister, but no sign of the plastic sheet with all the blue and red and green and yellow dots. I would require surgery now if I tried to play.

Boxes of Children’s books. I looked for “The Dog Who Ran Too Fast”. Skip was assigned the task of gathering feathers for the King’s pillow. He put on a small harness, hooked up to a doggy sized wagon, and went on a long journey to find feathers for the King.

When he finally found the perfect feathers, he loaded up his wagon and ran all the way back home. But he went so fast that all the feathers blew out and got lost. He was a sad, sad puppy. I must have read that one a million times leaning back on a small pillow, little faces gathered around, the bear lamp by the bed. It was one of their favorites. It’s probably here, but I don’t have time for this.

I’m scrapping up a zillion foam dots spattered across the attic floor. My knees and back are getting older by the minute. I’ve got a small fan blowing air around, but my belt line is wet with sweat. I’ve got the shop vac up here. It sounds like I’m at the airport behind a turbo at the end of the runway.

A piece of paper goes up the hose. Slwap-flap-waller-schwoop. I shut off the vacuum and dig inside the guts of the machine. It’s a wallet size school picture. Sweet child. Perfect smile. Formal pose.

Somewhere we have tons of these. One 8×10, two 5×7, a dozen wallet size, and 8,329 minis. Multiply that by 12 years times three kids. On top of that we have tub after tub of pics that we took. Kodak 110 Instamatics. Real 35mm stuff fit for framing. Pics we had to send off to be developed. Like in the old days.

It all makes me think about the pictures I wish I had. We have the family photos. Studio pics from Kmart. Group shots at Christmas. A trip to the beach. Swimming in some hotel pool. More than a few birthday parties.

What I wish we had more of is the plain everyday stuff. I’d give anything if I had a picture of Dad working the cows. One of me when I was ten sitting behind the wheel of that baby blue 1958 International truck loaded with hay. One of Mama covered in flour, making biscuits, canning beans and tomatoes. One of my sister at the county fair, wide-eyed on the Scrambler.

I would have been a different kind of photographer if I had only known.

I stand upright to take in the progress. My back needs the break. The fan is humming. I pick it up and let it blow up under my T-shirt for a moment. A red wagon. Blankets. Books. Picture frames. Sleeping bags. A stuffed bear. School papers. Files. Bags of shoes. Prom Dresses. A pogo stick. A Barbie car. A small dresser full of sewing patterns. A cooler. A Christmas wreath. A suitcase from the 50’s. Yahtzee.

An entire lifetime or more just sitting around in my attic. Some from Beth’s past. Some from mine. Some from the past we have made together. When it cools off, maybe we should have an attic party and really go through all of it. Piece by piece. It would be more fun to do it while I’m still alive. At least I think it would.

My pile of things to toss is merely a pile of empty or dry rotted boxes too brittle to hold anything any longer. That’s it. I just couldn’t bring myself to throw the good stuff away.

Except for the rain fly for the tent we don’t have. That thing has got to go.

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