Looking around this tidy, historic home, I notice intricate wood lovingly restored, an old steamer trunk, artifacts from journeys around the world, the viscera of words, drawings and maps, a blanket laying across the futon like a lover's shirt. On the wall, pictures of railway trains, posters, anatomizing mighty machines, veined with steam, and joints of steel
Sitting here, I realized I've downsized greatly in the last five years. Through sale or just giving it to friends in need, I have probably gotten rid of three quarters of my possessions. What I have now will fit in a two bedroom house, nothing more. I occasionally look at photos of the showpiece that was my previous home and feel a twinge of "wow, that's beautiful". But I wasn't really happy there, it took all my time, all my money and the only people that were impressed by such luxury were the kind of people I didn't give a rip whether they were impressed or not.
Most things can be replaced, clothes, videos, a lot of the books, music, cookbooks. A lot of our photos today are on a hard drive backed up somewhere, not a photo album. But there are those you can't replace, memories captured in small boxes, in small heartbeats of time you can't get back. It's small crafted things, made for you by others, your favorite old firearm. It's your life and you only have a moment to grab those things that confirm you're alive, those archeologies of dreams.
The story goes back to Christmas, when I was very little, one that came up this last week as Big Bro and I shared some memories. . .
There were always wrapped presents under the tree, but in the morning there would be those just from Santa that would be unwrapped and laying on the big brick bench around the fireplace. It was usually something good, to go with the stocking loot. We'd wake up Mom and Dad around 5:30 and they'd come dragging out to watch us look at wonder on that which we'd been given, shreds of wrapping paper scattered on the floor like spent brass.
I initially got the prerequisite baby doll stuff, but my parents soon learned I was more of a "action toy" type of girl. I later grew to love the trains, my Daisy rifle and Legos but one plush toy sort of stole my little heart when I was so very little and he and I were inseparable for years.
It was Larry the Lion. I got him for Christmas one year when I was toddling around on chubby legs and never let go. I swear I will NEVER be one of those women who covers their beds or the back window of their car with stuffed animals. The only stuffed animals on my wall are of the whitetail variety. But for Larry I'd make an exception.
Larry talked, and not the "goo goo gaa gaa" of the annoying girl dolls, Larry talked tough, in Mel Blancs voice (Bugs Bunny anyone?) When you pulled his string he said about 12 different things: “I’m ferocious, aren’t I?” and “(growl) OOOH! I scared myself!” "I'm a very very very brave Lion.. grrrr". When he spoke, his whole mouth moved, a soft plastic lions mouth that would gently give me a make believe kiss goodnight.
Larry Lion was my favorite stuffed companion for several years. Then he was put aside as I discovered adventure that lay outside my playroom, launching myself like rapture from tree limbs, building models and trains, a carpenter of light and noise. And that was fine by me, until I turned 13, and stuffed animals among young teenagers were suddenly cool. But Larry was nowhere to be found.
I was certain my older brother had taken him as a prank; holding him out in the playhouse or another secret fortress of play, waiting to trade him for something valuable. I also knew that wherever he was secreted, he was waiting for me. Listening, head tilted if he could, quietly saying in the dark and stillness, “I’m a very, very, very brave lion.” remaining brave and true until I found him.
But he was just gone, never to be seen again. When I told the brother I thought he had taken him, that he was missing, he got that expression, sudden, intent, concerned that you just can't fake. He had a penchant for practical jokes but he wouldn't hurt me for the world. But I missed Larry, with that awareness of pages missing, longing with the unbridled hope of children, even if I was much older. I tried to act like it was no big deal, being a cool teenager and all, bluffing my way into impending adulthood. But after combing the house for him I went into my room and cried, sound rupturing from someplace deep inside. I cried hard, perhaps because I had to cry quiet, perhaps because I felt the way about tears as I did about weakness, don't show it, but if you do, get it over and done with, quick, before anyone sees.
I looked one last time around the house a few years ago, funny how some things just stay with you, but he was gone. My Mom died when I was still fairly young. My biggest fear was that after she died, Dad had gotten rid of so many things of hers that were hard for him to see, touch and feel. A putting away of memories that he believed were his to dispose of as he pleased, but were still connected to big brother and I by tiny strands of touch and smell, that would bring Mom back to us in those quiet moments when we'd sneak into a closet to touch what was gone. Things we needed, things no longer there. I don't blame him, he dealt with his grief in the way he could. But other than her Badge from the Sheriff's department, some cookie molds and her housecoat, all her clothes and personal things were given away, the crafts and artwork she did, gone, as if she'd painted a door and walked through it, never to return.
I figured Larry accidentally went out in that general removal of pain for my Dad. As I entered adulthood and learned of loss of my own, I totally understood, even as I mourned with unrequitable lovers urge, the dismantling of white picket fences and happy endings.
Until a couple years ago, when I got a box from my hometown. In cleaning out an old hatbox way up in a closet in the guest bedroom, shortly before she passed away, my Step mom had found him. Harriet and Dad were together a lot of years and she loved me as if I were her own and she knew how much I'd looked for him. She carefully wrapped him up and shipped him to me.
Larry arrived, carefully carried by the UPS man. I opened the box in an afternoon as quiet as the closet he had been hidden in, carefully packed away by my Mom as I shed my childhood, gently unfolding him from the tissue paper, still missing a whisker. He was a little dusty, needing a comb for his mane and smelling of the sleep of reason that is childhood. When I pulled him carefully from the box, his head seemed tipped to one side as if he were listening for someone, if only in my imagination.
Surprisingly, he can still talk, as clearly as he did years ago and I pulled his string again and again, laughing like a child.
In the rush of work, the sale of my too big house and all the upheaval of moving and caring for my Dad, Larry was sort of ignored. But like all true things, he was always there, waiting quietly in the wings until I was ready. Until one night, I'd come in from a day out in the field, one of those days that follows you home, leaving invisible footprints from the door to your bed, where you walk in circles all night in your sleep, looking for that one thing you missed. Such days are hard, having to be tough, having to be impersonal, not knowing who is watching, if the media is nearby, brain deeply engaged, but heart floating spectral above the immense yet demarcated ruin, filled with the voice of fire and grieving water.
I stood there, tired and dirty with a knee that feels like it's made of gunpowder, barbed wire and scorpions. I could only stand, a grown woman, breathing deep the small form of a well loved stuffed toy with a ratty mane and a whisker missing. There are no words for time, when holding something that is precious, however untranslatable. Holding on tight because he's all I could hold on to, in that moment, sticking my face down into his fur and for that instant, being small and strong at the same moment.
I looked out onto a night that resists words, and to a photo by the bed of my big brother, so very far away. With a small smile, I gave the string another quick pull as I held him close, if only to remind ourselves, that we were both still . . very, very brave.