I was cleaning out the basement. Certain recent events have brought home to us how necessary it is to get rid of clutter and not leave it for the next generation to deal with. It’s amazing how stuff stacks up. Books everywhere, some of them never read, and lots of odd items that at one time looked attractive in catalogue or store window but were never used.
At some point you have to make up your mind to act wholesale; to take your forearm and run it over the top of the desk and push everything into the trash. If you consider each and every article, well, then, you’ll never get it done and will be lost in sorrows and in misery.
There is a kind of satisfaction, finally, in looking over a room – or basement, in our case – and seeing the walls and floors again; being able to walk from one side to another. Thus, the job of de-cluttering gets easier and faster as you go. You work with the certain knowledge that there will be something – maybe a few things – that a month, year or decade from now you will regret tossing – but there is no way now to know which things that will be and so everything goes.
I was moving swiftly and nearing an end – that is, complete neatness and order – that I had not thought possible only weeks before, absolutely devoid (I thought) of all nostalgia and sentiment until I came upon a box that I did not recognize. It had been hidden below and between stacks of other boxes and had not seen the light of day for over twenty-five years. Most of the stuff I had gone through I was pretty familiar with. I hadn’t seen it for years, but I sort of knew already what was in the boxes and nothing much was a surprise. Until now.
This box contained a bunch of plaques and award badges from summer camp – over fifty years old, all of it – and some pins and certificates for participation in the town’s children’s library programs – the Noble Order of Bookworms. But underneath it all, still in its back leather case, now stiff and brittle – was my first transistor radio. It was, of course, a marvel in its day, a badge of new technology – plastics, semi-conductors, micro-engineering, all marks of the space age. But its design and cosmetics look archaic now.
For me, this radio was one of the first evidences of personhood. I bought it myself without permission or recommendation of either parent, but the greater thing about it was that it was a doorway into music, into the songs and culture of the day. Here is where I heard Brian Wilson sing about the doing “his dreaming and his scheming, lying awake to pray” Here is where I heard the Association sing about the girl who had captured the heart and who was always, always, just out of reach.
Here I hesitated. I did not toss the radio, but ran my thumb over the still-familiar on-off, volume dial, waiting to be ushered back in to that dream world.
Of course, the batteries were long dead.